Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace’s Game of Death takes the Jumanji ideas of surviving a game into interesting and entertaining horror directions.
Aesthetics and Homage
Game of Death thrives in its understanding and appreciation of the aesthetics and tropes found within horror films and video games. From the opening credits, Game of Death drew me in with their beautifully rendered monuments to video games of the past.
The backgrounds throughout the opening credit sequence brought me back to the times I spent playing 90s point-and-click adventure games such as The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. The style of the images used to introduce the central game theme of the film expertly recreate the beautiful background images found in these games among others of the genre, while blending into moments sparked with the creative energy of different eras of video game design.
Game of Death builds comedic moments out of understanding the tropes that are found throughout so many horror films, and they do so with affection. After being introduced to the main group of friends, the introduction of the game is done in a fun way that reminds us all that if you have sex in a horror movie, only the worst can come to you. In this early moment, a character locks her gaze on the game as she’s having sex. This perfectly sets up the tone of the film and its goal to play with the tropes we all know so well.
Head Explosions Galore
Game of Death follows a group of friends who decide to play a mysterious game that asks them to kill the number of people that appear on a little screen. In their case, it’s 24. But if they can’t make a decision, the game kills one of the group.
When the first game-induced death happened, I got nervous that seeing multiple deaths that occur in the same way would get old, but when it’s a head explosion, can you ever have too many? I say no, and Game of Death does a wonderful job of making the few explosive occurrences to all feel different tonally and visually.
In another on-point decision, the group of friends breaks off, some staying behind while others go in a different direction. This works as a nice opportunity to establish these characters and their personalities even further.
Tom (Sam Earle) and Beth (Victoria Diamond) leave the rest of their friends behind and enter into one of the most interesting aspects of the film. Their performances work really well, and they play off each other in interesting ways. The moments of these characters going off on their own helps establish the darkness of their personalities while providing a unique fight montage filled with video game graphics.
The way this montage works might seem like a way to keep the gore level lower, but for a film with multiple head explosions, that doesn’t quite matter. By using graphics reminiscent of different genres and decades of video games, Game of Death sets itself apart and creates a memorable moment that beautifully begins in a journey through a pool of blood.
Blend of Genres Through Tropes
Game of Death works well in its blend of genre tropes. The dissonance between the sweet and calm music accompanying a make-out scene and the death montage that follows – with the same music – creates a moment that won’t be forgotten.
Character tropes sometimes can take you out of the world a film is creating for itself, but in Game of Death, the ideas of these tropes are twisted and turned into something that comments on the nature of these nice guys, final girl, etc ideals, while also reminding you of all the fun you’ve had with these archetypes in the horror of the past.
Game of Death works in its moments of gore, but also provides laughs for fans of the genre and its conventions. The film makes its way through settings and structures of horror such as a house party – abandoned or not – open roads and hospitals. This flow keeps the film interesting and allows it to explore conventions found within these various types of horror films that we have come to know and love.
At times Game of Death plays up the cheese of heads exploding and hospital rampages, but it spends just as much time exploring the violence involved in such acts. This film deals heavily with ethics and how killing 24 people is an easy choice for some, and what comes to people who think that way.
Game of Death is a fun and gore-filled examination of horror and video game conventions that works well in its short runtime. With its focus on making decisions and putting yourself above others, Game of Death hits on some darker issues relating to violence and desensitization
What are your favorite horror films? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Game of Death will be available on VOD July 14, 2020.
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