×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW Film Review: ‘Game of Death’

A group of teenagers find themselves forced to kill or be killed in this stylish horror film.

With:
Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, Emelia Hellman, Catherine Saindon, Erniel Baez D, Nick Serino, Thomas Vallieres, Jane Hackett, Steve Godin, Neve Leblanc, Natalie Darbyson. (English dialogue)

Managing to wring some lively variations on the kill-or-be-killed teenage psychodrama pioneered by “Battle Royale” and mainstreamed by “The Hunger Games,” “Game of Death” is more nasty fun than most viewers — at least those past voting age — will want to admit. A feature repackaging of the Quebecois creative team’s same-named web series, it’s a stylish, self-aware exercise in which seven bratty best friends discover the titular board game they’re playing has all-too-literal life-or-death stakes. The film is sure to develop a cult following among viewers in the same general age range as its protagonists. But don’t expect their parents to approve.

“Kill or be killed” is actually the main directive in the instructions that come with the game a group of suburban teens find themselves drawn to during an unchaperoned summer afternoon. That turns out to be bad news for them but good news for us, since before they settle down to play, these horribly crass and jaded brats have already proved exhausting company as they fool around with drugs and sex. Under threat of mortal peril, they grow more relatably human.

The first unpleasant surprise they get is when the game, requiring each to lay a thumb on the board, makes a stinging collective blood-prick. That awakens the central video-screen counter, which reads 24 — supposedly the number of people who must be killed before the game ends. If someone isn’t snuffed every few minutes, the game itself will claim a victim from among the players.

No one takes the rule seriously — until someone experiences an abrupt demise no doubt deliberately reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s 1980 Canadian horror classic “Scanners.” At first the panicked kids assume there’s a sniper about, blaming an elderly neighbor who unwisely comes over to investigate their screams. But when a second central character’s head goes ka-boom all by itself, they realize it’s Game On.

Reactions to this discovery among the rapidly dwindling protagonists run a gamut from homicidal self-preservation to skittish survivor’s guilt, with dueling couples (Sam Earle and Victoria Diamond, Catherine Saindon and Erniel Baez D) eventually defining those two poles. In any case, police have been called, so all must flee the house. With the counter ticking, woe be unto anyone who crosses their path en route to a local medical facility where the tale, and its body count, reach their climax.

As vigorously tasteless as it is in concept and tenor, “Game of Death” actually exercises a certain artful restraint in that most of its mayhem is implied (or only seen in gory aftermath) rather than graphically depicted. There’s a certain witty meta quality to the goings-on  — though their video-game-like structure and imagery may recall Uwe Boll’s “House of the Dead,” not a film commonly given much credit for being tongue-in-cheek.

Montreal-based co-directors Sebastien Landry and Laurence Baz Morais manage enough variation in pacing and design elements that the film hardly seems as thin as its short run-time might lead one to expect. (The screenplay co-written by the directors with Edouard Bond, sports an “adapted by” credit for producer Philip Kalin-Hajdu, who Anglicized the dialogue.)

The film’s playful intent is furthered by some showy, disparately staged gambits: occasional animation and graphics; an arbitrary aspect-ratio shift; and a surreal running gag of underwater nature-documentary excerpts. The original score by Julien Mineau is redolent of ’80s shlock horror. The young performers spotlit here are nothing if not, well, game.

SXSW Film Review: 'Game of Death'

Reviewed online, March 12, 2017. (In SXSW Film Festival — Midnights.) Running time: 73 MIN.

Production: (Canada—France) A Blackpills and Rockzeline Wild Studio production in association with La Guerrilla. (International sales: Rockzeline, Paris.) Producers: Philip Kalin-Hajdu, Pierre-Alexandre Bouchard, Mathias Bernard. Executive producers: Bernard, Bouchard, Antoine Disle, Benoit Beaulieu, Jean-Yves Martel, Pierre Binette, Etienne Borgeat.

Crew: Directors: Sebastien Landry, Laurence Baz Morais. Screenplay: Landry, Morais, Edouard Bond, adapted by Philip Kalin-Hajdu. Camera (color, HD): SPG. Editor: Olivier “OG” Guillemette. Music: Julien Mineau.

With: Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, Emelia Hellman, Catherine Saindon, Erniel Baez D, Nick Serino, Thomas Vallieres, Jane Hackett, Steve Godin, Neve Leblanc, Natalie Darbyson. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, has died of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, Emma Stone, Edgar [...]

  • Kelly McCormick David Leitch

    'Hobbs and Shaw' Director David Leitch Signs First-Look Deal With Universal Pictures (EXCLUSIVE)

    Universal Pictures is signing David Leitch, his longtime producing partner, Kelly McCormick and their recently founded 87North Production banner to a first-look production deal. “David and Kelly have established themselves as a distinctive, stylish filmmaking team who can do it all, from contained thrillers to franchise tentpoles,” said Universal’s president Peter Cramer. “We are confident [...]

  • Still from cannes competition film "Parasite"

    Cannes: Bong Joon-ho Says ‘Parasite’ Is too Local to Win Competition

    Having been partially responsible for the Netflix fall out with the Cannes Film Festival, “Okja” and “Snowpiercer” director Bong Joon-ho returns to Cannes competition this year with conventionally- financed “Parasite.” But the Korean-language film is a tragicomedy that Bong says may be too nuanced for the festival. “Cannes always makes me feel excited, fresh, and [...]

  • Summer Box Office: 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion

    Summer Box Office: Five Weekends to Watch

    Popcorn season is upon us, and it’ll be up to comic-book heroes, a wise-cracking genie, and a lion who would be king to ensure movie theaters are still the hottest place to spend the summer. Last summer, blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Ocean’s 8,” and “The Meg” drove moviegoers to their [...]

  • Critics Week

    Cannes Critics’ Week Unveils Its Lineup

    Lorcan Finnegan’s science-fiction thriller “Vivarium” with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, Jérémy Clapin’s fantasy-filled animated feature “I Lost My Body,” and Hlynur Pálmason’s Icelandic drama “A White, White Day” are among the 11 films set to compete at Critics’ Week, the section dedicated to first and second films that runs parallel with the Cannes Film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content