Game of Death

After being a bit disappointed that The Belko Experiment wasn’t the dark comedy I was promised with the very misleading “Office Space meets Battle Royale” tagline, Game of Death satiated my appetite for a hilariously demented bloodbath extravaganza. This movie felt like a return to the cheesy 80’s horror films with outlandish premises like Death Spa, Shocker, and Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (not an 80’s film, but close enough), just with a stylish upgrade that reminded me of something from an early 1990’s music video.

The premise of the film finds seven teenagers staying at a vacation house in an isolated lake town. The teenagers come across an old looking board game with strange instructions. They have to put their fingers on the board to play, and suddenly all seven are pricked with a needle; the game absorbs their blood and states that they must kill someone in small window of time; otherwise they’ll each meet their demise one by one. After finding out firsthand the very bloody consequences of what happens if they ignore the rules, the teens set off to score 24 kills in order to end the game.

“…horror fans will appreciate the nostalgic qualities, and get a kick out of its originality.”

First, I should get this out of the way; a majority of the characters are vapid and unlikeable, but honestly I get the vibe that that’s what the writer’s were going for. You’re about as invested in these characters as you are with the victims of a Friday the 13th sequel; you see them act stupid and obnoxious, and you can’t wait to see them get their comeuppance. These are the millennial equivalents to the promiscuous teens Jason chops up; they’re just gore fodder. We have Tom played by Sam Earle; he’s a really creepy chronic masturbator who is all too comfortable transitioning into a psychotic serial killer in order to save himself and more importantly his sister, Beth. Victoria Diamond plays Beth, and this character was the most interesting in my opinion. Tom seems to have incestuous feelings for Beth and she comes off as cold and heartless until she’s faced with actually following through and murdering someone; Tom’s there to goad her into doing what needs to be done, but her reluctance makes for a fairly interesting character. Tyler and Ashley (played by Erniel Baez Duenas and Emelia Hellman) are the more virtuous voices of reason; despite not wanting to die, they don’t feel full comfortable taking other people’s lives, and are more into the idea of finding another option. There’ also Ashley’s meathead boyfriend, Matthew (played by Thomas Vallieres), and then there’s Kenny and Mary-Ann (played by Nick Serino and Catherine Saindon; Kenny acting somewhat as the goofy comedic relief character, and Mary-Ann, his girlfriend. Before they find the Game of Death board game, we see the characters making snapchat-esque videos, playing spin-the-bottle for lap dances getting high, pranking each other, talking candidly about sex…you know, doing all the things that’ll guarantee you’re going to get killed in a horror movie. There’s not much more to say, it is what it is here, and all the actors do a fine job, but like I said, they’re very vapid and obnoxious. I wasn’t bothered by them, and the carnage comes pretty quick so if you find yourself feeling that the characters are insufferable, chances are they’re not going to be in the film very long anyway. About the only person I ever cared about was the hapless Forrest Ranger Marilynn (played by Jane Hackett) and her adorable English bulldog, Winston; I found this character to be just the right amount of goofy.

Once the film kicks into high gear, it’s a bloody good time. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s pretty batshit crazy. The credit scene is this wonderfully animated 16-bit sequence that looks straight out of a Super Nintendo, and out of nowhere the climax of the film kicks into this strange mix of 9-bit and 3D animation that gives it a really unique look and feel. You’re not supposed to take this film seriously like The Belko Experiment, you’re supposed to settle down and have a just have a good time while the craziness continues to escalate. There’s also some weird shit involving cutaways to a nature documentary featuring Manatees. Maybe that had some symbolic meaning behind it, but it was entirely lost to me. It wasn’t too distracting; it was just a bit odd.

I hope this film does well, and there’s a sequel with a bigger budget; I feel like this film was hindered by budget constraints, so it didn’t go full-blown postal. It felt a bit reserved when it came to the deaths, as a majority of them near the ending seemed to take place off screen. I’d love to see a sequel set outside of a small-town, and maybe in a busy city, or a residential suburb. It just felt like the small-town lake house was more of a necessity and not a choice that truly serves the story and concept. All in all, this was a really fun movie with really cool ideas. I think horror fans will appreciate the nostalgic qualities, and get a kick out of its originality. It’s not perfect, but it’s an entertaining addition to the genre.

Game of Death (2017) Directed by: Sebastien Landry, Laurence Morais-Lagace. Written by: Edouard H. Bond, Sebastien Landry, Laurence Morais-Lagace, Philip Kalin-Hajdu. Starring: Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, Thomas Vallieres, Erniel Baez Duenas, Catherine Saindon, Jane Hackett.

8 out of 10

Game of Death premiered at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.

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