It’s kill or be killed in Game of Death. The film is little bit Belko Experiment, a little bit Hunger Games, and a little bit of none of those. In similar fashion to Beyond the Gates, a mysterious board game has gone awry. Consequences quickly become dire, and the countdown is on. The kids aren’t alright.
Though the premise of Game of Death isn’t all-together new, it’s the tone and the voice of this film that sets it apart as something unique. Game of Death is quiet, edgy, dark and violent. It’s got a faux-retro vibe in only the way that 2000’s babies will appreciate. It’s the Spring Breakers of Horror.
A group of unlikable teenagers are enjoying the summer the way unlikable teens do; obnoxious selfie videos, sexual intercourse, alcohol, and rooting through old closets for mysterious and deadly board games. Jokes aside, shit gets real after each of the teens lay a finger on the board. The game springs to life, pricking a drop of blood from each of them. The number “24″ pops up on the small screen. An internal clock begins to click downwards.
The rules are simple; kill or be killed. (But let’s talk board games for a second here. Hardly a fun premise. Even if you are enthusiastic from the get-go. This game has about as much replay-ability as Monopoly at a cottage in the middle of nowhere with a group of players who never do trades. *shudder*) The kids quickly ignore the game; their attentions spans click down quicker than the countdown. That is, until someone’s head explodes.
In a highly realistic fashion, chaos ensues. The teens are in hysterics, and no one immediately blames the game. The kids at first suspect a sniper, and then an unfortunate neighbour who checks the property. But, they finally turn their attention to the Game Of Death after another head goes, as Pennywise would say; Pop! Pop!
What happens next is where the real conflict of this film lies. There is dissension among the teens. All while the clock keeps ticking, they bicker about whether self-preservation should out-rank the lives of 22 other souls. Strangely reserved, audiences won’t be able to predict if Game of Death is able to bring about a massacre, even with its less-than-redeemable round of players. Will they resort to murder to stay alive?
I’ve actually seen Game of Death twice now. When I first caught it, I was isolated by heavy headphones in a dark screening room at Fantasia Festival in Montreal. There was no squirming audience, no laugh track to flavor my experience. And again, now at Toronto After Dark. It’s a strange film, that I don’t think I’ve fully digested – even after having several months to sit on it. With genre film, it can be hard to gauge how an audience will react to a certain intestine, or extended make-out scene without actually experiencing the film in a crowd. I’m sure midnight audiences will eat up the extensive gore and top notch special effects. But, the quiet, indie drama aspects leave me a bit perplexed. How will an audience fair with viscera one moment, and tumblresque visuals the next?
Game of Death may just be a perfect Frankenstein’s Monster of odd tones. I wasn’t far off in saying this film is the ‘Tumblr‘ of genre films. It provides a multimedia of visuals; video game elements, iPhone videos, cartoon elements, dream-like visuals, and 80’s synth. All of which delivered on a calm and apathetic plane. The film is able to starkly jump from a violent death scene to a wide, silent shot without any fanfare. We don’t pause to leave or pick-up emotional baggage. The film may have valleys and peaks, but I dare you to stop and care.
I was expecting a gory, fun ride through a teenage nightmare. I got the gore.. but I’m not quite sure if they delivered the fun. Or, if Game of Death even wanted to. If you’re looking for something different, this is it.
But I’ve got to hand it to that gore. Bonus points for the special effects alone.
Game of Death is the 2017 French/Canadian/American horror-themed film directed by Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace. It stars Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond and Emelia Hellman. The film’s synth score is composed by Julien Mineau. Visual effects by Alchemy 24, with Blood Brothers on practical effects.