Game of Death (2017)

Game of Death first published by SciFiNow

Seven teenagers are partying at a house, and pushing boundaries: drink, drugs, sex (incest, even), casually flippant talk of ‘murder’ and a ‘kill list‘. As Beth (Victoria Diamond), in a game of spin the bottle, chooses to do a crotch-grabbing lap dance for her asthmatic brother Tom (Sam Earle) in front of the others, downstairs in the rec room Ashley (Emelia Hellman), sitting astride her boyfriend Matt’s face, spots an old board game – the Game of Death – just as she reaches her orgasmic climax.

The timing is hardly a coincidence – for these kids on the cusp are about to learn hard lessons in the coupling of sex and death as an essential part of human experience. Once they have pushed that button and started playing this most adult of games together, there can be no going back to childhood. As the clock on the supernatural (or is it merely metaphorical?) game ticks, they must kill 24 people, or one by one their own heads will explode – which several do, graphically, to prove the bloodily messy stakes.

“Stop acting like we’re in a fucking videogame!”, says Ashley. “This isn’t Carmageddon!”, insists pizza (and drug) delivery boy Tyler (Erniel Baez Duenas), when instructed by Tom to run a stranger over. Yet games seem to be the only medium through which these young characters can filter the newly discovered horror of mortality, and so a hospice massacre carried out by a pair of them is visualised – not unlike the opening credits – as a lo-res two-player game of kiss and kill.

Offsetting all the human Darwinism, we see playing constantly in the background a documentary on the manatee – a humble, harmless sea mammal that has also suffered its own accelerated decrease in population, largely due to human impacts on its ecosystem. It is one way that the themes of this Battle Royale for the fps generation are broadened out by co-directors Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace (who also collaborated on French-Canadian TV series Dakodak and Polyvalente) to be a more universal study of life and death in a hostile environment. For what these youths are discovering is their involuntary place in a selfish system gamed against the innocent. Not sure that it quite holds together – but great to see both so many ideas and all that youthful promise (of frankly annoying characters) cut short to a mere 73 minutes. And oh the humanatee!

© Anton Bitel