Game of Death 2017
Kill or be killed is the golden rule of the Game of Death. Sucks for seven millennials who ignored that rule. Now each one's head will explode unless they kill someone. Will they turn on each other to survive, or will this sunny day be the last for the innocent people of their middle-of-nowhere town?
Edouard H. Bond and Philip Kalin-Hajdu
Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace
Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, and Emelia Hellman
There may be a new subgenre of horror emerging in the 21st Century, one that sees retro games/videos ushering in terrifying events. We saw this set-up play out with great success in 2016’s Beyond the Gates, and the trope coincides with a resurgence in the popularity of horror-themed board games like Mixed Tape Massacre, Horror Boards, and Infection at Outpost 31. It all speaks to a nostalgia modern fear practitioners are using as a hook to pull us into their stories. Inevitably, however, these innocent forays into gaming have unimaginable consequences, speaking to the horrors of the present and our collective fears for the future. Game of Death takes these concepts and ups the ante considerably, creating an experience at once harrowing, disturbing, and vastly entertaining—if you’re a gorehound that is!
We’ve seen plenty of teen-centric R-Rated creepers that, in spite of theatrical restrictions, are genuinely marketed towards high school-aged horror fans. These films retain a sleek, hip aesthetic where gore is inserted almost haphazardly and usually with comic undertones. Game of Death also has comic undertones (plenty of them) but this isn’t your typical teenage romp by any means. It may have some surface similarities to films like Scream, The Craft, and Wish Upon, but this film achieves staggering levels of violence and depravity. Game of Death is definitely a teen-centric horror movie for grown-ups.
Game of Death does an amazing job setting us up for shock in Act 1. At first, it seems like we’re in store for more of the same-old-same-old: Horny teens do drugs and party heartily before danger crashes the party. Even when they set themselves up for a kill-or-be-killed scenario, we’re still not convinced we’ll be impressed. It’s only once the actual horror begins that we realize, much to our pleasure, that Game of Death is something entirely different. It’s as though we’ve gone from Napoleon Dynamite to Funny Games on a dime; and once we transition, the horror, gore, brutality, and tragic subtexts only intensify.
Official Synopsis: Kill or be killed is the golden rule of the Game of Death. Sucks for seven millennials who ignored that rule. Now each one’s head will explode unless they kill someone. Will they turn on each other to survive, or will this sunny day be the last for the innocent people of their middle-of-nowhere town?
Game of Death is directed by Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace; the film stars Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, and Emelia Hellman and is produced by La Guerrilla (Montreal), Rockzeline (Paris) and Blackpills (Paris).
So how good are the head explosions? Fucking brilliant! Get ready to experience some of the best melon-bursting since Scanners. While there’s no doubt some CGI is in the mix, the FX are incredibly realistic; this is serious gore presented without any glitz or glamor. At the same time, there’s a wicked gleefulness to violence, with arterial blood spray becoming almost ejaculatory. The cast is sexy, but the gore is gruesome, and the juxtaposition of beauty and brutality is arresting.
Game of Death is a straight forward analogy, but the film is also deeply metaphorical. Like It Follows, the film takes place in what could probably be best described as another dimension, one that looks very similar to our own, with subtle yet profound differences. For example: Everyone uses cell phones, but every television set is circa 1985; TVs are seen with VCRs attached and VHS tapes nearby; there’s only one station available, and it appears to feature manatees exclusively. It’s a world where the best food delivery comes from “Pizza Hawt” and “Carmageddon” is everyone’s favorite violent video game. It’s a world where police officers are almost exclusively female and teenagers are still irrationally terrified of HIV. Game of Death incorporated cell-phone videos with 1980s era 8-bit computer graphics, creating a multimedia collage; a tattered tapestry of the familiar yet alien. All-in-all, the film has a dreamlike, surrealist quality that enhances both the humor and the horror contained within.
Game of Death is deceptively simple and shallow, but the straight-forward pretense leads to loads of cerebral subtext—not to mention ruthless skewering of youth culture and the mainstreaming of violence. We’ve seen the kill-or-be-killed scenario before, the “It’s me or you” dilemma, but Game of Death is something much more profound. This isn’t a tit-for-tat: This is teens forced into a killing spree by an unseen, most likely supernatural force without any sort of karmic framework. Characters are faced with the prospect of surviving, but only at the cost of many innocent lives. While some characters struggle with guilt, others are determined to play the game because that’s how they view their predicament: “It’s just a game.”
Obviously, Game of Death addresses the purported link between violent media and real-life violence. It seems at times to suggest gaming has become so engrossing, characters are unable to differentiate between digital violence and actual murder. Ultimately, however, those closest to surviving the ordeal realize there’s only one way to win at the Game of Death and that Death, rather than being humanity’s greatest enemy, is actually our greatest unifier. The film forces its characters and viewers to examine their motivations for every action at every moment, making past and future inconsequential; nothing beyond this current moment matters. So, what’s your motivation: To live, to win, or to play the game without losing your soul? We all play the Game of Death whether we want to or not, even though most of us don’t even fully understand the rules.
It’s also no coincidence that the anagram for Game of Death is GOD. Chew on that for a minute.
Bottom Line: I honestly hope Game of Death scores a theatrical release, but doubt it will; arthouse sensibilities and an extreme level of gore may relegate the film to more daring genre aficionados. Fans of cerebral, satirical, metaphorical horror will swoon, while those accustom to sleek, tragically hip teen-centric horror bubble gum will be left feeling dirty and confused.