Kill or be killed is the golden rule of the Game of Death. That 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?
Sebastien Landry and Laurence (BAZ) Morais-Lagace’s Game of Death plays out like a fervently feral spin on Jumanji by way of Battle Royale and … Spring Breakers. Yes, you read that right and as mad of a mashup as that might sound, Seb and Baz’s Game of Death is THE “Gruemanji” flick horror fans were waiting for.
Previously purveyors of audio-visual content of a musical and video gaming kind, Seb and Baz decided it was high time they combined the success of their splatterfest of a short “La Chienne” (Caged) with their penchant for partying. And so, Game of Death was born.
The film thrusts a bunch of sassy striplings into a gruesome game of life or death when they unwittingly test their wits against an obscure electronic board game. Devised by Sam Boucher, a bonafide game designer, the device itself is a thing of Mattel nightmares. In the film, players position their fingers on respective buttons to receive a pin prick and a few drops of their blood trickle towards the centre of the board where an on-screen message reveals how a grand total of 24 people must be killed as quickly as is humanly possible if they want to prevent the game from randomly “eliminating” players at will.
Before we talk about the ensuing mayhem, despite my initial reservations when the film kicks off with the snapchattiest of dialogue imaginable, that decision to let the kids run amuck actually works its wonders when the plot eventually starts to thicken. As blood soaked as Game of Death is, half of the fun actually lies in the fact that Seb and Baz are anything but formulaic and, once the blood really does start hitting the fan, the aforementioned impromptu verbose opening makes perfect sense when vitriolic tensions starts to rear their ugly heads. Seldom does a campy splatterfest have me questioning what I’d do in the protagonists’ shoes, but these crazy kids achieved exactly that, and on more than the odd occasion. This was particularly true of Victoria Diamond whose on-the-nose performance really sold the sheer gravity of the situation these kids have found themselves in.
A minor niggle, albeit a very minor one, was the excessively absurd comic relief provided by a local law enforcer and her dog. Rather than injecting the intended additional layer of humour to the film, her excessive offbeat waffling dragged on a tad too long for me and removed me from the thick of things for a few brief moments until the byzantine chaos made its comeback, much to this reviewer’s delight.
Like I said, Game of Death isn’t ALL about brutality but when the blood rains, it pours. If done wrong, going overboard on the effects is the kiss of death for any film but the savvy skills of Blood Brothers FX (very much to blame for Turbo Kid’s chaotic carnage) and Rémy Couture’s prosthetic pièces de résistance are nothing short of flawless. And when a film sets the gore stakes as high as Game of Death does from the word go, it’d damn well better have plenty more savage surprises up its sleeves if it hopes to keep its audience engaged. Well, this reviewer is happy to report that Baz and Seb just keep upping that ante and delivering the gruesome goods right up to the final reel! Extra kudos must of course be given to the film’s committed cast who were clearly put through the royal ringer when it came to getting blood blasted from every imaginable angle.
In short, Game of Death is a tautly-paced, shockingly-provocative feral feast of a debut with the added appeal of having flung the door wide open to a potential sequel/franchise. Who knows? Maybe even Mattel will sit up and take note and hire Sam Boucher with a view towards shipping the REAL game out to stores just in time to blow kids’ minds this Christmas…
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)