Some of the best horror isn’t just blood and guts or ghosts and goblins – it asks you to think deeper. GAME OF DEATH asks a moral question – is it acceptable to kill, if the alternate is death for yourself and those closest to you? How many people would you take out in order to protect your friends and family? At what point is murder acceptable?

GAME OF DEATH begins as many horror greats of the past have – seven sexy millennials in a cabin together, romping around in their bathing suits, drinking, fornicating… basically a perfect recipe for an amazing weekend away. That is, until they find what they think is an innocent board game. Not so innocent, the game informs them that as time ticks away, they’ll need to either kill, and satisfy the game, or watch each of them get killed off one by one. It isn’t until the first of them has their head explode like something out of Scanners that they believe in the game. With each subsequent death, the game counts down… 24…23…22… it’s obvious they have to get ahead of the game in order to survive. Tom (Sam Earle) pulls out a gun he brought along from his backpack, and begins the hunt, as the rest of the crew reluctantly trails behind him. What started out as a fun weekend away turns into a slow and steady stream of murders.

The concept of GAME OF DEATH is exceedingly simple, and I’m honestly shocked it hasn’t really been used before this. It begs a great question of morality. But unfortunately, once you’ve seen one watermelon head explode, the thrill is sort of gone. Twenty four deaths is a lot to stomach – particularly when Tom, the leader of the pack, comes off as more of a school shooter than any kind of remorseful, scared millennial. While this aspect of Tom’s character was almost definitely intentional, it is too close to reality, and too sensitive of a subject for us to look past. As soon as he pulled his gun from his backpack, in his perfect chino shorts, white polo, and neo-Nazi haircut, I found myself absolutely crawling out of my skin – not from fear, but from a distinct impression of poor taste and an overt attempt at edginess. Add to that potently tactless cocktail that his girlfriend Beth (Victoria Diamond) is a mashup of goth and Manic Pixie Dream Girl… exactly the kind of girl to be stereotyped as going on a Bonnie and Clyde style killing spree with her mass shooter boyfriend. I wish I could grab some of these writers, who choose edginess over substance, and tell them this – if it turns off your audience, you aren’t winning. Being controversial isn’t always the end goal – and can mar a movie like GAME OF DEATH.

GAME OF DEATH is also, to my dismay, almost three separate movies in one. The first, a sexy weekend getaway slasher flick.The second, a slightly insufferable Cabin in the Woods style game, something they have to beat in order to survive. The third, and in my opinion the best, is the third act – which begins with a long, arthouse style slow push in on Beth and Tom kissing, and continues into a death montage, set to music, that could be mistaken for beautiful if it wasn’t so disturbing. This portion of the film also features a remarkable animated sequence, harkening back to old video games, which sells the concept of the film so much better than anything that occurred in the nearly 55 minutes leading up to this sequence.  In many ways, I feel that this final act is what GAME OF DEATH ached to be all along, it just stumbled, hard, along the way.

GAME OF DEATH asks some crucial questions – ones that we can relate to in our modern era – the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few – or vice versa. But instead of being a clean, concise, profound statement, it’s muddled by mixed signals and poor choices. GAME OF DEATH could have been something we all walked away better for, and instead I feel frustrated,  like I wasted my time on a game where nobody wins.

5/10 stars

 

Game of Death
RATING:UR
Runtime:1 hr 13Mins.
Directed By:
Sebastien Landry, Laurence Morais-Lagace
Written By:
Eduoard H. Bond, Sebastien Landry, Laurence Morais-Lagace