Game of Death (2020)

A scene from the horror-comedy 'Game of Death' courtesy Cleopatra Entertainment.

French Canadian directors Sébastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace go from graphic sex to graphic gore for their feature film debut “Game of Death.” Clocking in at a brisk 74-minutes, the horror-comedy involves a group of millennials who discover a board game that gives the film its title. What starts out as innocent fun turns into a deadly killing spree as the group of friends discover the kill or be killed game is real.

There are a few scenes in the film that resemble a video game, one in particular that involves the victim’s point of view. There’s also the nice animated opening sequence complete with a dated organ theme recalling the best N64 horror games. The only thing missing is a controller in your hand as the screen warns “MAKE A CHOICE, YOU OR I; WITHOUT DECISION – ONE WILL DIE.”

The setting is a nice lake house where a group of friends chill in their bikinis and boxers while doing drugs, booze, and each other. There are lots of F-bombs and indications that highlights from their escapades are being recorded for social media. In other words, it’s pretty authentic. Although, I did screen the film with my 19-year old daughter and she said, “Dad, no one acts this way” and immediately I felt a huge sigh of relief, which was followed by panic as I remembered the period of my life when I was her age.

The mayhem begins when one of the friends discovers the electronic Game of Death sitting on top of a Nintendo NES System on a shelf filled with puzzles. The octagon-shaped device resembles a horror version of the classic Simon game with skulls instead of colors and an LED screen in the center.

The instructions call for the seven friends to place a finger on one of the skulls and press “Start.” Each finger then gets pricked and the blood travels to the center of the game piece causing the screen to light up where a random number is displayed (in this case it’s 24), and the sound of a timer begins ticking. The instruction card warns “If nobody is killed by the time the clock runs out, the game will, in turn, execute a player” and finally “The game ends when the counter gets to zero or all the players are dead.”

The group blows off the Game of Death after concluding that it’s missing a board, tokens, and dice and so they go back to playing drinking games. Suddenly one of the members begins complaining about a headache. His head begins to expand like a balloon filling with air until it explodes just like a scene from David Cronenberg’s “Scanners.” The counter on the game expires, the number “23” flashes and the ticking begins all over again.

Eventually, everyone resembles Sissy Spacek’s blood-drenched Carrie as one by one the friend’s heads begin to explode. Realizing the game is real, the remaining friends jump into a pizza delivery vehicle armed with a handgun and a plan to save themselves by killing innocent people. Not everyone agrees with the plan as they argue among themselves while speeding down a rural country road until they spot a jogger and you can imagine what happens next.

I did enjoy the scene with a quirky singing forest ranger, a character that could easily fit in any Coen Brothers film. There is a scene where she sings a pizza jingle that was adlibbed for the film. It’s funny and the filmmakers should have expanded the character.

“Game of Death” has its moments if not a plot. Landry and Morais-Lagace have fun with the blood cannon and so the whole “Natural Born Killers” meets “Jumanji” film becomes an excuse to get as gory as possible while intermittent videos of a manatee documentary fill the screen that occasionally changes aspect ratio. Shot in 18 days, the film gets points for the practical special effects, but in the end, it just plays as a bloody greatest hits montage.

(3 stars)

Now streaming for rent/purchase on various sites.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic. 

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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