This article was last modified on July 15, 2017.

Fantasia 2017 Film Review: “Game of Death”

Kill or be killed is the golden rule of the Game of Death. Unfortunately, seven millennials have ignored that rule. Now each one’s head will explode unless they kill someone.

In the simplest terms, this film is “Jumanji” meets “Battle Royale”. Others have said “Jumanji” meets “Natural Born Killers”, which also works. Either way, it is the premise of “Jumanji” (a board game that takes on a life of its own) re-interpreted with a horror theme. In a sense, even “Jumanji” could be seen as a horror film with its spiders and snakes, but the creators never went that dark.

Giving credit where credit is due, “Game of Death” is an excellent concept, and it is actually shocking that it took someone this long to think of it and develop a script. The creators took the concept, and then added excellent filters and touchstones. There is some humorous splatter gore that will draw comparisons to “Dead Alive”, for example.

The standout actor in the film is Erniel Baez Duenas, the proverbial pizza guy. Initially his character is rather obnoxious, but increasingly becomes the most human and someone audiences might be able to identify with. In a film with such shallow plot, it is a testament to his skill that we are able to go through a small range of emotions towards the character.

Another strong point of the film is how it will have audiences considering entry-level ethics questions. Is murder acceptable if the alternative is death? Would suicide be morally preferable to murder? Are some lives more valuable than others? And it throws in the interesting math that eight players must kill 24 people – does this suggest the moral answer is suicide, because eight deaths is better than 24?

Unfortunately, despite some promising ideas, the film really suffers from a disappointing execution (no pun intended). We are treated to excessive padding on the running time with slo-mo shots that reveal nothing, cell phone footage of inane conversations and gratuitous party moments. These inclusions feel like an afterthought to stretch the picture from 45 minutes to (barely) feature-length. The script comes out feeling woefully underdeveloped, which may be due to the film’s origins as a web series. I am unclear whether the series was remade into a film, or just edited together. Either way, it does not work in the longer format.

Although there is a surreal running gag of manatee nature documentary excerpts which were amusing for inexplicable reasons, the film as a whole is half-baked and would benefit greatly from a complete mulligan. Perhaps the picture is more interesting for a younger or drunker demographic than this reviewer is a part of, but even they would have to be disappointed on some level.

“Game of Death” is playing July 15 at the Fantasia International Film Festival. The picture is brought to us courtesy of production companies La Guerrilla (in Montreal), Rockzeline (in Paris) and Blackpills (in Paris).

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