This fall, The Verge is making a choice. The choice is fear! We’ve decided to embrace the season by taking in as many new horror movies as possible and reporting back on which ones are worth your time. We’re calling this series Hold My Hand, as we look at films you might want to watch with a supportive viewing partner. Get comfortable, put the kettle on, check the closet for ghosts, then find a hand to squeeze until the bones pop.
The horny teenagers gather in a big house in the woods, unchaperoned. The horny teenagers wear bikinis. The horny teenagers drink beer. The horny teenagers die. This is the plot of Sebastien Landry and Laurence Morais-Lagace’s Game of Death, which follows in the grand tradition of pubescent fornication slasher movies. It opens with a scene of a boy masturbating, and ends with a scene of extreme bloodshed. This time around, the killer isn’t a walking nightmare or a drowned camper in a face mask, but a board game. It’s like Jumanji, but much more likely to decapitate you.
The movie centers around a group of six friends who discover a board game that requires them to kill 24 people or be killed themselves, one by one. After starting the game, each teenager becomes a time bomb whose head will explode if someone else is not murdered in their place within a given time frame. Each death resets the timer, and the cycle continues until 24 people are dead.
Game of Death is from the French production company Blackpills, known for B-movies and obscure TV shows like Superhigh, about friends who get their superpowers from smoking weed. This movie feels similarly low-budget, or like the producers accidentally blew the entire budget on industrial vats of fake blood. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: Game of Death is gory. Halfway through the movie, the characters are caked so thoroughly in dried blood, I wanted them to shower more than I wanted them to make it out alive.
Is it scary?
It’s scary in the way murder is scary in general, but there are no jump scares or twists. Game of Death is a movie about teenagers who go on a killing spree, and with 24 deaths to get through in its 70-minute run time, there’s not much room for the characters to do anything but kill. And because one freaky teen named Tom decided to bring a pistol to their vacation home, the teenagers don’t even have to be particularly innovative about their carnage.
Will I care about the characters?
Not at all. The board game is discovered pretty early on, and the only establishing scenes come mostly in the form of vertical phone videos, in which the main crew funnel Budweisers and talk about which of their friends they most want to have sex with. The only character whose name I was able to catch was Tom, an eerily stoic boy with a Morrissey haircut and polo shirt. He generously leads the charge in murdering innocent civilians. The only reason I remember his name is because all the other characters are always yelling, “Tom, stop! Tom, no!” whenever Tom is about to shoot a jogger or something. Tom is very serious, and at one point refers to his asthma as “my own game of death.”
Is it visually impressive?
The visuals fit the movie, which is equal parts campy and confusing. I had to look away when one victim was torn in half, and a lingering shot of a teenager sitting upright in the backseat of a car with her head charred into a bouquet of skin bits is going to stick with me for a while.
Other than the squirm shots, Game of Death isn’t particularly visually cohesive. During one death scene, the camera suddenly shifts to the victim’s point of view, just as she face-plants in the dirt. A PG makeout scene looks like something out of a stage play, shot in dreamy, shadowy profile. A massacre near the end of the movie jumps between live action and animation, and while animated blood is admittedly easier to look at than the industrial vat-blood, nothing up to this moment suggested a video game sequence was coming.
What’s lurking beneath the surface?
Our own mortality, obviously. Life is the true Game of Death, we learn, because in case you had a chance to forget, we’re all going to die one day. Game of Death is a deeply goofy movie that makes huge tonal leaps while shoving Philosophy 101 existentialism down its audience’s throat. A closing monologue by the final player standing includes the line: “We mean nothing. Death is the bonus level.”
Manatees are also apparently lurking beneath the surface, because every television in this movie is playing a manatee documentary. I have no idea why.
How can I watch it?
You can’t, yet. Game of Death screened at this year’s SXSW and at the recent Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, but it hasn’t seen a wide theatrical release. Blackpills plans to give the film a VOD release later this fall, but hasn’t set a date yet.
Is this a hand-holding movie?
No. You probably won’t want to touch anything at all for a while after watching it. You may want a few showers, though.