Game of Death (2017)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/06/17 11:39:33
SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There's plenty of enthusiasm and energy on display in this "Game of Death", from the zippy 8-bit titles to the gleeful rampage that concludes it. The filmmakers are having fun doing a gross-out fest without a whole bunch of apology. It's a nasty little movie, but maybe not quite so nihilistic as it seems; I was eagerly anticipating its cast of young jackass characters dying, and some at least make a bit of a case for them to somehow survive, so they grow on you at least a bit.There's five of them to start out, teenagers initially hanging out by the pool at Ashley's house - her (Emelia Hellman), her boyfriend Matt (Thomas Vallieres), their kind of snobby friend Beth (Victoria Diamond), Kenny with the broken hand (Nick Serino), and sweet-seeming Mary-Ann (Catherine Saindon). Beth invites Tom (Samuel Earle), and their dealer Tyler (Erniel Baez Duenas) eventually shows up, by which time they've found "The Game of Death" among the other old board games in a closet. Though it looks like a twisted version of the 1980s "Quizzard", it draws blood when all the players are holding it, and then has a couple of LED countdowns start - the players have to kill over twenty people, and if nobody dies before the timer hits zero… Well, exactly what you think is going to happen does before it resets.
Game of Death was originally put together as a web series, and it's fair to wonder how much of the story was built on the fly - once it hits the road in search of more bodies, it never moves back, and the characters can be very thinly sketched: I honestly wasn't sure through much of the movie whether Beth and Tom were supposed to be brother and sister, boyfriend and girlfriend, or some sort of weird step-sibling middle ground (probably the second with me misinterpreting a "bro" thrown into conversation or something). Directors Sebastien Landry & Laurence Morais-Lagace and Edouard H. Bond & Philip Kalin-Hajdu, their co-writers, are probably not looking to make any particular statement about the perils of other people's nostalgia or today's teenagers being particularly craven and amoral, or even get a lot of tension out of the moral dilemma this game poses; they pretty much just want to serve up a bunch of exploding heads and other gory deaths in fairly rapid-fire manner.
And give them and their crew credit: They do manage that in pretty impressive fashion. That's probably no longer as surprising relative to the film's streaming-video origins as it used to be - filmmakers know it's just as easy to toss these things onto a big-screen TV as see them embedded in a webpage on a laptop's screen - but once it gets out of Ashley's hosue, where it's still got a YouTube-video-made-with-what's-lying-around sort of feel, Game of Death looks like a movie with well-shot chases, an atmospheric entry into a creepy-looking hospice, and generally decent big-screen cinematography by Simon-Pierre Gingras. The special effects and make-up work are not state of the art but they're messy and chunky and pretty much what the audience wants from the movie. There are some clear time-and-budget-saving methods employed - the opening credits aren't the only time the filmmakers fall back on retro-style animation - but they generally serve to keep things moving forward at a frantic pace rather than giving the filmmakers excuses to slow down and wink at the audience.
The speed of the movie and the obvious delight taken in causing mayhem can be more bug than feature for viewers who can only get into a movie if they have a rooting interest in the characters, especially early; this one absolutely has moments where someone meant to be a protagonist blows up and the reaction ranges from "good!" to "so what?" It's not really bad work on the part of the cast; the predominantly young, Montreal-based group are capable throughout and as they break into smaller units, their individual personalities come more to the fore and, perhaps surprisingly because not much has changed since the beginning, the audience may find themselves wincing at the difficulty of finding a good way out; some of the characters do grow on one even if they don't have particularly notable arcs.This movie is unabashedly basic, one for those who go for gore, black humor, and girls in bikinis, and not a whole lot more. You could do a lot worse if looking for a quick, unapologetic exploitation flick.
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