Game of Death Movie Review
Written by Ryan Noble
Released by Blackpills, Rockzeline, and La Guerilla
Directed by Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais
Written by Edouard H Bond, Philip Kalin-Hajdu, Sebastien Landry, and Laurence Morais
2017, 73 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Frightfest European premiere on 26th August 2017
Sam Earle as Tom
Victoria Diamond as Beth
Emelia Hellman as Ashley
Catherine Saindon as Mary-Ann
Erniel Baez Duenas as Tyler
Nick Serino as Kenny
Thomas Vallieres as Matthew
Jane Hackett as Marilyn
Game of Death might not feature a game that you'll want to play, but it's definitely a film you should want to watch. Described as a combination of Jumanji and Battle Royale, there was no way I wasn't checking out the shared debut film of Laurence “Baz” Morais and Sebastien Landry. As one of our FrightFrest 2017 focus films, I'm so glad I did.
What began as a French-Canadian horror series, made up of eight 10-minute episodes, will be shown as a feature film at FrightFest 2017. The film centres on a board game that has its players quite literally playing for their lives. The rules are simple:
Once you begin playing the Game of Death, you must kill 24 people to win. You cannot stop playing until you've won... or died. As soon as the game begins, so does a countdown timer. If that timer gets to zero without someone having died – and you never really know how much time you have – a player's head will explode. It looks painful as f*ck, to say the least. So the choice is yours; kill 24 innocent people to survive and live with the guilt and consequences, or sit comfortably with your morals until your brain is sprayed all over the walls? Well, that's the choice that a group of seven friends have to make.
It's a concept that I immediately fell in love with, no doubt as a result of its proximity to the difficult choices that people have to make in films such as Saw, Would You Rather?, and, of course, my beloved Battle Royale. It also helps that the game is disarmingly cute and retro, chuckling to itself as each person is murdered at its demand: “One down ^o^”.
Speaking of retro, the soundtrack, composed by Julien Mineau, fits Game of Death perfectly. Mineau's synth compositions manage to capture the retro vibes of films like Halloween and fit as well with the tone of the film as the Game of Death appears to fit in with the NES, N64 and old board games where the teens first find it. Then things get serious... and graphic.
Game of Death has some amazing, visceral special effects that, along with the soundtrack, elevate the film. It's been a little while since I've watched a film that went so all out with the gore, and I didn't even know I was missing it. I'm talking exploding heads, gouged throats – one guy is split in half with his intestines trailing behind him. It's wonderful.
Without giving too much away, in between the glorious gore and sensational soundtrack is a fast-paced journey of disbelief, acceptance, and hard choices. Watching how some of these characters change over the course of an ever-ticking 73 minutes is interesting, and it is one of those films where you can't help but wonder what you would do in the same situation. In that respect, I couldn't agree more that this film is similar to Battle Royale.
Where it differs is that these friends don't feel quite as close as some of the students of Battle Royale, so it doesn't feel all that surprising when they start splitting off from each other. Each character is played solidly, portraying their own teenage stereotypes and angst believably. Unlike a lot of movie teenagers, I didn't actually want them to die – with the exception of the obnoxious jock, obviously – but it never feels like they were that far from turning on each other from the get-go. Kids these days, eh?
For me, the show is stolen by Jane Hackett as the kooky park ranger, Marilyn. She is somehow adorable and unbearable at the same time, and yet you want nothing more than her safe return as she tells her spoiled pooch, Winston, that she loves him over her walkie-talkie.
Also, and I may have read this completely wrong, I think there's some seriously heavy incest going on between two of the more homicidal characters. One minute they're all “bro” this and “my brother” that – in a non “street” way – and the next they're making out before going on a killing spree shown by an awesomely retro 8-bit montage. If this is the case, the film gains nothing from it. In fact, I almost missed it entirely, so I might have to watch the film again to see what's going on there...
The thing is, I would watch Game of Death again, and I think that's a pretty big deal for any form of entertainment. I know that its fun concept and moral decisions will play on my mind for a while, and I think it might just do the same to you. Throw in the solid cast, good pacing, eye-pleasing special effects and an ear-pleasing soundtrack, the latter two of which I enjoyed immensely, and you've got yourself a game you should be dying to play. You might just find out how far you're willing to go to win.