Upon reading that Game of Death was an amalgam of a web series stitched together into a feature, I feared the worst. The formats, though not incongruous, ostensibly serve different ends – one drives towards a rollercoaster of micro-climaxes, the other tells a rounded whole narrative arc. It’s a case of a dozen acts versus the traditional three act structure and trying to cram the one into the other is risky business. Though there’s some glaringly funky transfer hiccups reformatting the series as a feature film – most notably aspect ratios that shift scene to scene – the product overcomes what should be insurmountable odds at every turn through pure force of blood-stained will.
Pitched as Jumanji meets Natural Born Killers, Game of Death is a schlocky gore-horror comedy plump with exploding heads, torrents of blood and torn apart torsos. The viscus is spread liberally, with the assembly of actors drenched head to toe in sanguine from the first 10-minutes onward. There’s heads that swell to the size of watermelons then pop, hapless runners severed in two, their intestines strewn like a game of pick up sticks, and countless innocents hacked, chopped and shot gleefully to lights out.
Crimson eruptions define Game of Death’s campy bombast and there is no shortage to the buckets of blood in front of the camera. Sure the blood dries fake but Montreal-based directors Laurence “Baz” Morais and Sebastien Landry eschew the strict confines of reality, levering Game of Death as more a cheeky party movie than anything meant to be taken too seriously. For strictly SXSW debuts, look to Turbo Kid or Deathgasm to find similarly twisted, 80s-homaging, dementedly over-the-top horror comedy fare. Were he privy to a triple-feature of the three, I would expect Peter Jackson circa-1992 would be proud.
Game of Death starts when seven swimwear-clad, happy-go-lucky friends stumble upon a retro board game whose design is equal parts Tamagotchi and intravenous needle. Between pulls from a beer bong and weird teenage sexual shenanigans (like sister-on-brother lap dances), a perfectly sunny pool day of getting shlammered is interrupted when Ashley (Emelia Hellman) spies the game, precariously nestled in a broom closet, tucked from sight a la the fated Necronomicon.
The rules for the 80s-inspired digital grimoire are simple: the participants must kill an ordained number of people (in this case 24) or be faced with their own demise. The game unexpectedly pricks them and starts ticking down. They laugh along – except for Erniel Baez Duenas’ Tyler who throws a shit storm, calling the game a “STD dispenser” – and squirrel the thing from sight and mind. Two exploded heads later, the group of helpless millennials realize that they’ve accidentally enrolled themselves in some rather serious voodoo shit and must get to killing in order to save themselves.
The young cast – which features Catherine Saindon (the prude), Nick Serino (the stoner) and Thomas Vallieres (the jock) – play archetypes as familiar now as they have been for centuries of horror past but it’s the other players who get to fool around with the formula.
Tom (Sam Earle) and Beth (Victoria Diamond), a super strange sibling duo who wouldn’t seem out of place at a Lannister family reunion, acclimate uncomfortably well to the bloodthirsty demands of the game. As they take to the task of offing unsuspecting townsfolk with relative moral ease, the other participants, though fearful for their lives, give pause. Here Game of Death explores interesting territory in between righteous bouts of blood and bone.
The tension between pure self-preservation and total moral and social corruption is not lost in bad writing – as it so easily could have been – though it’s hardly the centerpiece of Landry and Morais-Lagance’s murderous conceit. Game of Death strikes a balance between its ridiculous tsunamis of blood and its meager philosophizing, making this a party movie that doesn’t numb you with an endless streak of gore but actually engages your mind. Right before blowing it up.
CONCLUSION: Fountains of blood and questionable millennials populate Laurence Morais and Sebastien Landry’s campy ‘Game of Death’, a slick and uproarious horror comedy where its kill or be killed in a heady celebration of schlocky violence and over-the-top gore.