SXSW 2017: Game of Death
Sebastien Landry’s and Laurence “Baz” Morais’s Game of Death starts like many a teenage horror movie does: a sunny day, flirty teens, some alcohol, a pool party. It’s a pretty superficial day, for fairly superficial people, in what turns out to be a fairly superficial horror movie. The gore comes fast and furious, but tapers off as the film itself falls apart.
The kills in Game of Death are spurred on by the seven leads collectively deciding to play the eponymous board game to while away the afternoon. The game pinpricks each player, and a chiptune laugh signals the game’s start. A rhyme informs the players that they must choose to kill someone, or one of them will die. The catch comes when they realize the deaths the game calls for is more than three times their number. They blow off the ever-ticking countdown until one of boys at the party goes for a beer bong. Then his head explodes all over the patio.
The gore here is a lot of fun, and cringe-inducing in its detail. It’s really just too bad we don’t spend enough time with any of these characters to have that awesome kill matter beyond the gore, or that the characters aren’t hateful enough to have the audience cheer for their deaths. The killing spree the leads go on to stave off their own ends is a promising conceit, and could have been mined for inventive kills. But all we get are a couple of gunshots, a pretty decent bisection by pedestrian vs. car, and an IV pole into an eye socket.
Other kills are glossed over in a Natural Born Killers-inspired multimedia music video/montage, meant to evoke a star-crossed romance in the incestuous relationship between two sibling lead characters. Instead it just comes off like someone watched Natural Born Killers a lot and said, “let’s do that.”
Julien Mineau’s synth heavy score is worth noting as a standout, and sets a good mood. The sense is certainly felt that the directors are trying to evoke the trappings of video games here, with the opening credits and killing spree montage later both leaning hard on bit-graphics and electronic chip melodies. But the trappings don’t equate to a mechanical or structural understanding, and it shows in how they try to translate that here.
Combine that with gamer slang inserted into dialogue, with several leads referring to their lives as a “bonus” or “final level” like it’s a really deep philosophical point to make. Then the final girl monologues directly to the camera in a victory pose while waxing philosophic about how death is the greatest contribution people can make to society. Then you realize that any message Game of Death thinks it has is just a garbled mess with some fun gore at the start.