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Jason Widgington [Celluloid 10.23.17] horror

After watching Game Of Death, from Montreal-based first feature writer-director duo Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais, I wasn't sure what to think. Was it a quick and easy copy of so many other films in the teen/young adult kill-or-be-killed sub-genre – think Battle Royale, Hunger Games, or even the almighty Miike's As The Gods Will - or was it some kind of statement about the ability and inability of today's youth to behave in a morally and ethically responsible fashion when faced with an impossible dilemma? I sat at my keyboard not knowing what to write for quite some time. Finally, I decided to ask for some advice from the resident 15-year-old. I showed him the red-band trailer, during which he uttered all of five words (more than I hear from him on most days, but I digress) that pretty much sum up Game Of Death: “Whoa! Jumanji just got real!”

The film starts innocently enough, with seven friends enjoying some carefree time at a remote family country place, drinking and smoking pot and doing what young people do for fun nowadays. But when two of them go off alone to have a – ahem – romantic encounter, one of them sees an interesting board game and brings it back to the group. The ominous game of death is made fun of by all, but they decide to give it a go, with one notable exception: one friend adamantly objects to it, claiming you never know what can happen.

Well, it turns out he's correct and after the game pricks each of their fingers for blood, a timer starts, and it is explained that they have to kill 24 people in order to win the game. If a certain amount of time goes by between kills, one of the group will die a horrible death, until either they have achieved the goal or all of them are dead. Naturally skeptical about it all, they ignore it and go back to their debaucherous activities until one of the seven predictably dies quite gloriously (think Scanners). Somehow they remain skeptical and think their friend was shot by a sniper (?!) until it happens again after they have incapacitated the suspected shooter. What follows is a spree of semi-reluctant murder and mayhem until the inevitable conclusion that will either please or piss off the viewer, depending on their point of view about the whole moral/ethical aspect of the ramifications of the Game Of Death.

If the premise sounds somewhat familiar, it's because it's been done countless times before, with slight variations on the theme and the outcome. But there are three things that set Game of Death apart from many of its predecessors. First of all, its tight running time of approximately 75 minutes means we are spared much of the ham-fisted moralizing of other films of this ilk, although there is unfortunately still some of that. Secondly, the phenomenal work of practical effects guru Remy Couture – whose work is so convincing that he was actually brought to court for corrupting morals a few years ago - is on full display in this film. Heads explode, intestines are strewn across a highway, people are graphically bludgeoned to death, and all of it will please gore-hounds to no end. Game of Death is one tight and gory film, folks. Lastly, smack dab in the middle of all this is a brilliant and surreal sequence that starts off as a romantic interlude between two of the more murderous friends and evolves into a full-on murder spree as they try to save themselves from the game's countdown. Featuring multiple animation styles interspersed with live action murder and a mid-90s power ballad from a popular-at-the-time French Canadian band, its absurdity had me laughing and cheering at the same time and has to be seen to be truly appreciated.

In short, there is no reason for horror fans not to watch Game Of Death. It's short, gory, and actually kind of smart when it comes down to it. So, yeah, I guess Jumanji did just get real. Thanks, kiddo!

Oh, and...Save The Manatees, those under-appreciated bottom feeders of the sea!!

Recommended Release: EXAM

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