TADFF 2017: Game of Death
Seven high schoolers gather at a home to do what most teenagers do in films such as this: talk about sex, drink, talk about sex, get high, talk about sex, and in, some cases, have sex. When they discover an obscure electronic board game in the house they cannot help but give it a spin. Little do they know that the game not only demands a drop of their blood, but also has terrifying consequences. It turns out that the rules of the game involve a clock that countdowns every few minutes. At the center of the timer is the total number of people who must die to complete the game. If an individual is not killed during one of the countdown intervals, then the game will randomly pick a player to kill.
The teens assume it is a joke at first but, when one of their heads is blown apart, quickly realize how dire their situation is. This leads to a moral dilemma for the group. Do they turn on each other or do they kill innocent people in hopes of surviving the game?
Game of Death is being labeled by some as a cross between Battle Royale and Jumanji, but neither of these comparisons feel accurate. The campy film lacks the teen angst and social commentary of the former, and the general sense of spectacle of the latter. Part of the problem is that the script never takes advantage of the numerous opportunities the brilliant concept provides. Directors Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace take much glee in the moments of gory dark humour, however, neglect to provide us with characters who we can truly revel in the carnage with.
This is ultimately the biggest problem with the film, I really did not care who lived or died. In fact, I could not stand any of the characters. Their personalities were so thinly drawn that they never formed a compelling picture. Much emphasis is placed on the incestuous relationship between Tom (Sam Earle), a psychopath who clearly understands what need to be done in order to survive, and his sister Beth (Victoria Diamond). Outside of the incest stuff, there is very little that separates them from the other characters. Everyone is reduced to one-note archetypes (e.g. drug dealer, flirtatious girl, etc.) causing the film to lack the tension it needs to make it feel high-stakes.
By time Landry and Morais-Lagace start to play with form and style, most notably in a montage that feels more like a music video than anything else, I was hoping the board game would bend the rules and just put all the characters out of their misery.