Bathrooms are dangerous places in horror films. Demons can appear out of nowhere from opening and closing a medicine cabinet mirror, or, as in the case of It’s Just a Game, it’s a place to summon otherworldly spirits to wreak havoc on Earth. Daniel Emery Taylor, the writer-director of It’s Just a Game, has a track record in the horror genre, starting as a child actor in Return of the Swamp Thing back in 1989 and both starring in and directing horror ever since. While there are certain fundamentals he’s obviously sharpened along the way (the backlit shots are genuinely strong), the film falls short of creating anything that would merit a repeat viewing.
A group of girls at a sleepover decide to exchange scary stories. This results in a dare in which one girl heads into the bathroom to recount a passage that could potentially open a portal and unleash chaos (think Bloody Mary). Hannah Cohen-Lawlor plays Brianna, a frumpy teen who is often the brunt of the jokes and jabs of the more popular girls. Sarah Kopin plays her friend Ruby who runs to her rescue while still maintaining a friendship with the in-crowd.
Brianna’s bathroom incantations unleash several otherworldly terrors, who are part of some moon cult that apparently will unleash the “Draconian Age” with Brianna’s help. And this also released the first real issue with It’s Just a Game.
“Brianna’s bathroom incantations unleash several otherworldly terrors…”
Mastery of tone is essential in horror. Maintaining the constant feeling of fear or dread is crucial, yet the movie’s cast seems unsure as to what type of film they are in. Some of this can be blamed on the obviously minuscule budget with which the filmmakers are working. But horror is a genre known for its ability to overcome monetary constraints.
As Sister Amelia, one of the aforementioned cult members, Leah Hudspeth provides It’s Just a Game with its one true stand-out performance. Seductive and sinister, Hudspeth strikes just the right balance as the provocative predator that the film could have used more of. Her partner Alex Zuko, playing Brother Marco, solidly shares most of her scenes, but once Hudspeth enters, she commands the room.
As in a lot of modern horror movies, It’s Just a Game also suffers from a third-act crumble that fails to create the gravity necessary for us to care about the outcome. Instead, we are provided with stretches of dialogue like “I hear the soil as it calls for the blood for whom it was meant,” and “This is a world of sheep and goats, and I am but a lamb, but I serve a dragon!” Those may have looked good on paper, but they serve to halt any visual momentum the film attempts to build.
Emery Taylor gives himself a role as the satanic Brother Thadius, a middle-manager within the cult. His odd breathy cadence gives the impression that he just learned his lines moments before speaking them. To its credit, It’s Just a Game does serve up some unexpected hits of violence and sex not commonly seen in smaller-budgeted fare, but it’s not enough to carry this game into the end zone.
"…maintaining the constant feeling of fear or dread is crucial"