In Game of Death, Montreal-based music video directors Laurence “Baz” Morais and Sebastien Landry developed their bloody short into a feature-length (-ish, at 74 minutes) celebration of ‘80s game culture. It’s a hell of a goofy thing that dares you not to walk out with a grin on your face, because this Game of Death is nothing if not really, really fun to play.
A group of debauched teenagers (Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, Emelia Hellman, Catherine Saindon, Nick Serino, Erniel Baez D. and Thomas Vallieres) kick off the film with a really strange and impressionistic party montage that sets us off-balance right away. They stumble upon a vintage board game and pause their hard drinking and casual sex long enough to play this rather ominous-looking contraption. Once they’ve begun, there’s no stopping the Game of Death: they learn that they must kill 24 people or the game will explode their heads, one by one, in a gnarly demonstration that forces them to take this game very seriously at once. They pile into a Pizza Hawt car and embark on a super messy killing spree. After the game takes care of three players right off the bat, the ringleader casually announces, “All we have to do is kill 21 people.” That’s all they have to do!
As for plot, that’s about it. There’s an unwell bulldog, a sweaty Santa, a lot of porpoises and some brazen incest, but mostly it’s blood, guts and more blood. And more guts. And some brain matter. Then more blood.
Plus some incredible art direction, as Morais and Landry take their music video sensibilities and blow them up onto the big screen, with 8-bit video game montages, gorgeous animation and very compelling coloring. It’s hard to get a grip on what decade we’re meant to be in – the kids use smart phones but watch VHS tapes; the girls wear timeless bikinis while the boys sport cut-offs and tank tops. Game of Death feels a bit out of time, an effect multiplied by Remy Couture’s stellar practical effects. You’ll never get tired of watching these kids’ heads explode. It looks so good.
There’s something to be said for the unabashed joy Morais and Landry take in their subject matter, a free-wheeling approach that yanks us along for the ride. Their stars are all great, and their cheerful embrace of sex, drugs and violence is made even more shocking by the fact that these don’t look like your typical Hollywood 30-year-olds playing teenagers. These kids feel young, so when they bash in the brains of a sweet state trooper or take out a palliative care patient, we can’t help but balk a little.
Game of Death manages to surprise us by going exactly where the film tells us it’s going to go, and by making it such a joyful journey anyway. If you like blood, board games and inexplicable sea life (and who doesn’t?), you’re going to have a blast with Game of Death.