Toronto After Dark 2017: ‘Game of Death’

Game of Death is a gory conundrum that is both impressive and bothersome.

Directors Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace propose a twisted premise featuring seven delinquents curiously playing a dusty board game, only to face vague instructions and a sinister endgame.  When a round begins, the game issues a specific number – a kill count.  If time passes without a death, the game will make sure one of its players “forfeit”.

Game of Death starts with a non-linear collection of party clips loosely inspired by Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers.  It’s a rocky start to ease the viewer into the story considering the shallow dialogue, unlikable characters, and the filmmakers’ reckless use of smartphone video.  However, when the game starts collecting lives, the film makes a shift from junky “dead teenager” horror to a discomforting arthouse film with plenty of surprises.  The gruesome effects are appropriately disgusting, and the physical design of the game is really creative.  Also, the performances (including an appearance by Sleeping Giant breakout Nick Serino and a chilly turn by Degrassi’s Samuel Earle) ripen as the plot and its consequences set in.

Game of Death will make the audience jump and squirm for good reasons, until a third act montage develops a kink in the narrative.  The kill count is such a large double-digit number, it gives one of the dopes a brainwave to eliminate the number by, essentially, being an “angel of death” to those on the brink of crossing over.  The filmmakers are aware of the morbid decision, but by turning the sequence into a stylized music video is a stroke of poor judgement.  This attempt to distract viewers away from the ugliness doesn’t work since it’s trying to light-heatedly entertain – it’s like oil and water.

But, hey, I have to give credit where credit is due.  I wanted a horror/thriller to give me an experience, and Game of Death is certainly a wild ride.


Game of Death screens at Toronto After Dark on Wednesday, October 18 at 7:00 pm at Scotiabank Theatre.

For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.

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Toronto After Dark: @TADFilmFest
Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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