Sometimes, when someone tells you to “go away,” you might want to take them at their word; perhaps they know something that you don’t. In this case, Cole (Kevin Nugent), out looking for a poker game, arrives at a house where he is at first rebuffed by poker player Walker (Jonathan David), only to eventually talk his way to the poker table where Jack (Rick Shoemaker) and Garrett (James Pawloski) sit. Jack’s the top shark at the table, or so he repeatedly says, and he too tries to convince Cole to go elsewhere, but Cole has the motivation of wanting to win money to help his sick daughter and has the buy-in cash to make it worth the table’s time.
This isn’t your normal game of poker, however. For one, the king of hearts is wild. For another, if you lose your showdown, you’ve got to survive, or not survive, a round of Russian roulette. Cole, finally seeing his mistake, despite the warnings to go elsewhere, finds himself trapped. With no other way out than to play and win, the game starts to get real interesting.
The Suicide King is a relatively simple short film, with the majority of the film taking place around the poker table. Mostly it relies on the hook of the narrative, the Russian roulette-centric poker stakes, and the acting on display to carry the film. And, for the most part, it succeeds.
When it does stumble, however, it is usually performance-related. For example, Rick Shoemaker, who plays Jack, seems to get the majority of the dialogue, as he’s the abrasive loudmouth who came up with the Russian roulette aspect of the game anyway, due to his lineage (he’s just the latest generation of poker playing powerhouses in his family). And he does a good job with the role, though there are times when you just want him to shut up because he just won’t stop drawing everything out, and his delivery wavers. I’m still trying to decide whether my problems with Jack is a visceral reaction to his character, missteps or unevenness in Shoemaker’s performance or just a script that didn’t know when to quit; probably a combination of all three. Regardless, it did drain on me a bit as the short went along.
On the other side of the spectrum, and for reasons I can’t entirely understand (is it the mustache?), Jonathan David’s Walker is extremely charismatic and entertaining… and he barely says a damn thing. Somehow David carries a power to the performance of player-dealer that makes him the most intriguing one at the table.
Overall, The Suicide King is a quality short film. While the narrative tips its hat here or there, for the most part it maintains its suspense. It has a few issues with the lo-fi nature of the filmmaking, such as visual quality and an audio issue here or there, but those are to be expected and aren’t so bad as to make you find the film truly wanting on the technical side of things.
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