Review: ‘Game of Death,’ starring Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, Emelia Hellman, Erniel Baez Duenas, Thomas Vallieres and Catherine Saindon

July 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Erniel Baez Duenas, Sam Earle, Emelia Hellman and Victoria Diamond in “Game of Death” (Photo courtesy of Cleopatra Entertainment)

“Game of Death” (2020)

Directed by Sebastien Landry and Laurence Baz Morais

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian area, the horror flick “Game of Death” has an almost all-white cast (with one Latino) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: During a house party, seven teenagers find a sinister portable electronic game that will make their heads explode unless they kill people.

Culture Audience: “Game of Death” will appeal primarily to people who want the lowest-common denominator type of horror film that places more emphasis on gross-out bloody scenes than having a coherent plot.

Thomas Vallieres, Catherine Saindon and Nick Serino in “Game of Death” (Photo courtesy of Cleopatra Entertainment)

If the sight of blood makes you squeamish, then you probably won’t be able to watch the “Game of Death,” which is essentially a repetitive, mindless bloodbath. The movie is only 73 minutes long, but it feels longer since the acting is so bad and the moronic story is even worse. Directed by Sebastien Landry and Laurence Baz Morais, who both wrote the screenplay with Edouard Bond, “Game of Death” makes a feeble attempt at being a dark comedy. But that angle to the story is essentially blown to bits, just like the exploding heads of some people in this movie.

There’s not much that can be said about “Game of Death,” because there really isn’t much of a plot. The movie, which takes place in an unidentified area of Canada, starts off at a house party attended by seven teenagers. They’re all various degrees of drunk, stoned and/or horny.

Ashley (played by Emelia Hellman) is a sarcastic “mean girl” type. Ashley’s boyfriend Matthew (played by Thomas Vallieres) is her male counterpart, because he’s equally obnoxious and cruel to others. How mean-spirited is Matthew? As a prank, he gives a drink to nerdy party guest Kenny (played by Nick Serino)—and the drink turns out to be Matthew’s urine.

Everyone at the party seems to know each other pretty well. Beth (played by Victoria Diamond) is a blonde Barbie doll type. Mary-Ann (played by Catherine Saindon) is the “nice girl” of the group. Tom (played by Sam Earle) seems like a regular guy until his true nature comes out later in the movie. And then there’s Tyler (played by Erniel Baez Duenas), a pizza delivery guy who’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

There are no adults in the house during the party, so the teens have free reign to do what they want. The movie has predictable scenes involving sex and drugs, but these scenes are filmed in such an amateurish way that it looks like a movie made by teenagers. And that doesn’t include the phone footage that’s supposed to represent what these partiers are filming for their social media.

After playing spin the bottle, the teens move on to another game. They gather around an octagon-shaped electronic toy called Game of Death that has a display window in the middle. It’s never explained how they got this mysterious toy, but an instruction card tells them the game’s numerical display shows how many people have to die for the game to end. If someone isn’t killed by a certain period of time (the movie doesn’t say for how long), then a game player’s head will explode. The card also warns that once the game starts, anyone playing the game can’t stop it until the required number of people are dead.

The teens think that all of this is too far-fetched to really happen, so they start playing the game. They place their fingers on the game’s finger slots. As soon as their fingers touch the game, they get an electrical shock that draws blood from their fingers. The blood dripping onto the device apparently activates the game to start.

Tyler freaks out and shouts, “That’s not even a a game! It’s an STD dispenser!” His pals tease him because they think he’s over-reacting. When one of them suggests that Tyler go to the hospital if he thinks his injury is so bad, he immediately rejects the idea because he says that the people at the hospital will experiment on him.

It isn’t long after that when someone’s head explodes, just like the game’s instruction card had warned. The numerical display shows that by the end of the game, 25 people have to die. Every time someone dies, an evil electronic voice from the game says, “One down,” and then gives a sinister chuckle. The rest of the story is basically a series of people’s heads exploding or people getting murdered. All of these death scenes are extremely bloody.

The visual effects are hit-and-miss in this film. The head-exploding scenes are fairly realistic-looking. However, a scene that looks dumb and very fake is when someone gets deliberately run over by a car, and the dead body’s splattered intestines look like elongated spaghetti covered with red paste instead of bloody human guts. To make matters worse, the dialogue throughout the film is just terrible.

While this deadly game is happening, the teens argue with each other about what they should do. Some don’t want to kill anyone. Some want to kill only “bad” people. Others in the group don’t care who they kill. The game unleashes a blood lust from two people in particular, who go on a murder spree that was clearly inspired by “Natural Born Killers.”

During all of this bloody mayhem, there are some bizarre moments that are meant to be funny but they just come across as very silly. After the first head explosion, the rest of the teens are covered in blood for the rest of the movie and don’t bother to clean themselves up, even when they eventually leave the house and do what they end up doing.

While driving Tyler’s Pizza Hawt car on a fairly deserted road, they’re stopped by a police trooper named Marilyn (played by Jane Hackett), who starts singing the Pizza Hawt theme for an interminable minute that seems like longer. When she asks the teens why they’re covered in blood, they tell her that they accidentally hit an animal with their car. It’s an obvious lie that this dimwitted cop easily accepts.

And then there’s a scene where there’s a gun showdown in a hospital hallway with a young girl hooked up to an IV pack and walking in the middle of this shootout. The problem with this scene is it’s filmed almost as if it’s a dream sequence: The hospital suddenly becomes deserted and the hallway gets that foggy look that indicates that it might be a dream.

But it’s not a dream. This gun showdown is also one of those unrealistic battle scenes where people point guns at each other, but then stand around and talk too much instead of blowing the opponent away. And one of the characters also gives a very pretentious, preachy speech about life and death.

“Game of Death” might have been intended as a dark comedy, but that only works when there’s anything that’s actually funny in the movie. When a movie is this bloody, it should either be very scary or very funny or both. “Game of Death” is neither. The only heads that might explode for “Game of Death” are when viewers get bored or frustrated with this bottom-of-the-barrel horror flick.

Cleopatra Entertainment released “Game of Death” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on July 14, 2020. The movie was released in France and the United Kingdom in 2017.