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THE GAME OF DEATH is a Pop-Horror JUMANJI with a Big Body Count (Fantasia Review)

If Scream was a love letter to the horror genre directed by a seasoned master, The Game of Death is hate mail delivered by young upstarts. It’s delivered with a wink, though—it’s not serious hate. They’re pranking you with a flaming bag of something nasty on your porch, yes, but they’ve sprinkled confetti in the bag, too, so lighten up, grandma.

It’s not apparent with the first kill, or the second, but by the time they get to a greasy bit of vehicular homicide, it’s clear that the team beyond Game of Death is having an outrageously fun time with the blood and guts of the standard scary movie.

Directed by Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace, the movie focuses on a crew of bored teens see-sawing between grabbing more beer, making funny videos, and sneaking off for cunnilingus. The day only gets interesting when they decide to play an old board game that, like most Hasbro products, demands someone die before the timer runs out. If no one dies, the game will pick one of the players. It’ll keep going until it gets 24 deaths, or all the players are killed.

Game of Death Head

They players include tattooed bro Matt (Thomas Vallieres), his girlfriend Ashley (Emelia Hellman), pizza guy/drug dealer Tyler (Erniel Baez Duenas), scrawny weirdo Kenny (Nick Serino), nervous Mary-Ann (Catherine Saindon), intense brooder Beth (Victoria Diamond), and her Funny Games clone brother Tom (Sam Earle).

Game of Death plays with its high concept (and its characters) like a kitten with a ball of intestines, offering up the kind of moral questions that make an Ethics professor salivate. Is it better that 7 people die instead of 24? Why? Should 7 people have to suffer just because they wanted to play an old board game? Would you rather die or kill? It doesn’t think too deeply about all these questions, but they arise just the same as each of the players debate internally and get into shouting matches about the right course of action.

It’s a clear subversion of horror tropes from the top down, including the age-old gag about the first girl having sex being the first to get the axe. The movie isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty, and the deaths seem gloriously random because of it. Game of Death also toys with the stock personalities that got sent up in Cabin in the Woods, but eventually dismisses the entire idea of them by showing us how all the teenagers are essentially the same. We only get to know them beyond their partying ennui through brief, Instagram-style drop ins that give us flashes of bright, young lives. Yes, all of them are terrible people. Or they’re just young. Or they’re both. The flow of Game of Death is to see which one(s) will emerge a little more conscientious on the other side.

There’s also the meta angle on the structure of slasher movies. After all, aren’t we all just counting down until the next death in those films, too?

Game of Death Main

Naturally, factions arise. Beth and Tom, who seem way too keen on murdering, take the game’s do-or-die ultimatum to heart, but they also devise a plan to kill a bunch of people that’s not totally unethical. A video game Bonnie and Clyde who at least consider who to kill. Meanwhile, the others push and pull against them, and finding something resembling a soul in the midst of all this becomes a battle to stop their blood-thirsty friends.

Despite being a smarter version of what Rampage wanted to be, the biggest problem with Game of Death is its mismatch of tone and style. It wants to make an art gallery show of its kills—right down to a soaring animated sequence that’s a glorious, 8-bit pop art explosion set to violence—but it also wants its characters to respond like real, frightened human beings. Both are admirable, and the blending is even admirable, but the opposing elements diminish the each other’s impact and leave the film feeling like trudging through a carnival fun house in an earthquake. It’s hard to tell whether Game of Death is trying desperately to say something important, or just tossing rolls of toilet paper on the genre’s front lawn. That’s a shame, even if it still earns brownie points for being different in a sea of the same.

It’s also got a deeply moronic final monologue, some bad edits that confuse the tension of the last act, and a shrugging attitude toward the kill-countdown clock (which injures its own intensity).

Still, it’s clear that money and skill went into these horrors. The practical and CGI effects—from the design of the real board game they made to the swelling faces to the outlandish deaths—are top notch. The gore should satisfy those hunting for it, and if you’re bothered by how annoying some of the characters are, just wait for the game’s clock to run down. At a brisk 70 minutes, it’s hard to get too mad at it.

3 out of 5 STD-dispensing burritos:


Images: Blackpills

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