Whilst there have been far fewer offerings from cinemas this year due to the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, films from streaming services and on Video-On-Demand (VOD) have provided some quality efforts. Unfortunately, Game of Death isn’t one of them.
Game of Death follows a group of young people, who in the middle of partying discover the titular board game. After initially dismissing the game’s objective of killing 24 people in order to avoid being killed themselves, heads start exploding and a killing spree is embarked on.
It’s certainly an intriguing premise; a perverted twist on the 1995 Jumanji film if you will. However, the fact that it’s taken the film three years to be released on VOD after premiering at SXSW in 2017 was a warning sign of its quality before going in, and it was definitely proved.
The main issue comes from the film’s startlingly short length. At just 73 minutes (which is really 69 minutes if you don’t count the credits) it reveals how little story there really is to the whole affair. It’s a clothesline of a plot which serves as an excuse to show as much ultra-violence as gore as possible, even if there are some pretty decent practical effects on display as part of it.
It really needed to be around 90 minutes if it was going to work as a fully functioning story. All the opening ten minutes do is show the group of friends partying, and then the board game is thrown in to actually kick-start proceedings. It’s wasted time in an already lightweight narrative.
What doesn’t help the story is the way the main characters are all incredibly obnoxious and shallow. It’s a bit hard to care about their survival in this situation if the only things that are demonstrated about them is their off-putting activities whilst partying. The only character of slight interest is Tom (Sam Earle) who takes the immediate action to go on a killing spree once the characters find out what is going on. His cold and emotionally detached nature could have made him a complex individual, if not for the fact there is absolutely no set-up for him behaving like this. Those first ten minutes could have maybe hinted at his psychopathic nature underneath the surface, but much like the rest of the film, it’s a wasted opportunity.
As mentioned previously the effects for the gore are quite good, but the violence itself quickly becomes tedious. There’s some disappointing similarity to The Belko Experiment due to how dark it goes in its gratuitous and senseless killings. If there had been some interesting psychological musings beneath the surface of the story, then maybe this could have been justified, but the kill or be killed angle is basically unexplored. There is an attempt made at the end to make a point about the nature of life and death, but it’s delivered in the most trite and obvious way possible through a character’s monologue.
Moving away from the story for a bit, the actual filmmaking Sebastian Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace is fairly competent when they avoid handheld shaky camera or POV shots which are jarring when used. There is also one interesting way a sequence is presented, which is when two of the characters go on a killing spree in a hospice. It’s shown in the styles of various video games/animations, which is a unique way to do it.
Motifs revolving around video games are frequently used, particularly in a stylised opening credits, and quite often in the dialogue and sound choices. However, this seems a bit odd to me when the actual Game of Death is a board game rather than a video game.
Overall, Game of Death really isn’t worth your time, except if you want to see some gore and you don’t have a lot of time on your hands.
Game of Death is available on VOD in the UK on November 26th