Review – Game Of Death (2017) Fantasia International Film Festival!

by Vincent Leblanc

On day 3 of the Fantasia Festival, I had one film to watch, one I had been looking forward to. I’m talking about the Canadian Premiere of the apparent splatter-fest Game of Death.

Game of Death is a Canadian/French co-production: Rockzeline (France), Blackpills (France) and La Guérilla (Quebec, Canada) all have a hand in this. This English language movie was directed by the duo of French-Canadian directors Sébastien Landry and Laurence “Baz” Morais. It was co-written by the directors and Édouard Bond. It stars Sam Earle, Victoria Diamond, Emelia Hellman, Catherine Saindon, Erniel Baez Duenas, Nick Serino and Thomas Vallières. The film had its World Premiere at SXSW this past March in their Midnighters section. It was also screened in May at the Fantaspoa International Fantastic Film Festival in Brazil (where it won the award of Best Feature Film) and at the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea. Finally, it was shown at the Sydney Film Festival in June.

Fantasia host Éric Boisvert (and director of the “Action!” section) welcomed the crowd at the sold out Concordia Hall Theater. He didn’t wait too long to invite directors Sébastien Landry and Laurence “Baz” Morais to join him on the stage. Landry arrived with a prop of the game in his hands while Morais was covered in blood.

Morais said he didn’t know if it was because of the Octane (an energy drink) or something else, but he said his heart was beating like crazy. His colleague Landry mentioned that it was Morais’ birthday on that day, so the crowd sang for him. I think it was Landry who then said that it has been one year and one day since they started shooting this film. They were happy to finally present the movie in Montreal.

Éric Boisvert invited us to stick around for a Q&A with the directors and several other guests after the projection.

You might have heard about this flick from its presence at SXSW. If not, here’s a synopsis. It is taken from the Fantasia Festival official website:

“A hard-partying pack of teens come across a mysterious vintage game and can’t resist giving it a try. They each place a thumb on it and suddenly, they all get pricked, their blood running and pooling into the game. A clock lights up, counting down. At the end of the countdown, one of the teens dies – in a rather spectacular way. The countdown begins again. The game instructs the teens to kill or be killed. Whatever the case, someone will die by the time each countdown ends, and it can either be one of them, or… well, anyone else. This is not great news for anyone who lives remotely nearby as the teens have no choice but to embark on the mother of all killing sprees.”    

Yes! That was fun! All 74 minutes of it! I’m not going to dig too deep trying to analyze this flick because it’s unnecessary. This is just a movie about a game that requires it’s players to kill people. It’s bloody as hell and features solid practical effects. What more can you ask for? Dialogues briefly explore the matter, this “kill or be killed” thing, as some of the characters do wonder if they’re doing the right thing. But that was it and I didn’t really want to reflect on this. This Jumanji/Battle Royale crossover was just made for having fun. It has some thrilling moments, but it is also pretty damn funny too!

Like I just said, the blood and gore is awesome. People die in several different and imaginative ways. The special makeup effects are the work of Rémy Couture. On the other hand, anything that’s bloody and needs a violent outburst comes from “The Blood Brothers.” In a video interview on a French-Canadian media, the directors said that around 143 gallons of blood were apparently used during the shoot. The company Alchemy 24 was brought in to do some visual effects. All three of these artisans/companies are Quebec-based.

Overall, the movie looks great. Like you can see in the trailer at the end of this text, some vertical videos of the characters filming themselves with a phone occasionally appearing in the film. There is also one sequence where the aspect ratio of the film changes for an unclear reason, before coming back to normal. I also need to mention the cool 8-bit opening credits sequence and one key animated/8-bit sequence about fifty minutes into the film.  

The electronic score by another Quebec-based artist, Julien Mineau, is pretty fun. One element he didn’t provide is a song during the animated/8-bit sequence I just mentioned. The directors used the romance song “Tu ne sauras jamais” from the 1990’s popular Quebec band “Les B.B.” I was too young back then and never grew up to be a fan, but this was a perfectly cool way of using the song (inserted below), while the crowd reacted very positively. 

As soon as the credits started, the film received a great round of applause. Host Éric Boisvert came back to the stage and welcomed back the directors Sébastien Landry and Laurence “Baz” Morais, co-writer Édouard Bond, actor Sam Earle, actresses Emelia Hellman, Catherine Saindon, and Victoria Diamond as well as producer Pierre-Alexandre Bouchard. One of the directors said that this was a beautiful screening. The other said that they’re happy because it’s the first time they played the film in front of a crowd that understood and reacted favorably to the song by “Les B.B.” in the animated/8-bit sequence.

They started the Q&A. They covered many subjects and did it pretty fast so here’s what I managed to take note of:

– Éric Boisvert asked the directors how the financing for the film came about. They explained that it started in 2013 when they directed a short film called “La chienne”, written by their co-writer on Game of Death Édouard Bond. They won an award for Best Directing at the Webfest in Marseille, France. The French loved the gore short. Some French producers (I think they mentioned their actual producers Rockzeline) asked them if they wanted to do a gore feature film so they said yes. They also talked about the French mobile app Blackpills who ended up producing too but I missed the details. I think it was Landry who said that thanks to the French, they did an English language film.  

For your viewing pleasure, I just found their great short film “La chienne”. Here it is, in French with English subtitles:

– The host then asked the directors how they managed to get the song from the Quebec band “Les B.B.”. He asked if they simply contacted them. One of the directors revealed that they originally wanted to use the song “You’re Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera but she turned them downed (not sure if this was a joke or not). “Les B.B.” was their second choice and they said yes. They thanked their producer Pierre-Alexandre Bouchard for helping them get the song.

– Someone from the audience asked whoever wanted to answer what was the most difficult thing to shoot. One of the actresses mentioned a headshot stunt that involved a harness. Actor Sam Earle said that the most difficult scenes he had to shoot were the most relax scenes, where no killing happened. He joked that this didn’t fit with his internal emotions and that acting should be constant death. One of the directors mentioned that one of the actresses had to receive a projection from the blood canon every mornings of shooting (18 days) as part of her makeup. She was scared. Another person remembered that one of the actors arrived on the set in bad shape one morning. By bad shape he meant that the actor had a fractured jaw and four broken teeth because of the blood canon.

– Another person from the crowd asked, most likely jokingly, just how much was this movie a critic on consumerism. This drew laughter from the crowd and the guests and one of the directors answered: “Next question!”.

– A man asked what was the signification of the manatees. Morais said that he loves manatees and that these animals don’t want to hurt anyone. He added that it was important to balance things in life (you’ll understand what this is all about when you watch the film). He then said that the film happens almost in real time, within an hour or so, so this was a sort of link between scenes and locations. Finally, he mentioned that the South Koreans didn’t get the joke.

– Someone else asked the directors to talk about the animated/8-bit sequence. They said they didn’t have the means or money to show that many kills in a certain location. They instead collaborated with different artists for the creation of the sequence. Co-writer Édouard Bond chipped in for a fun anecdote. He said that he was not on the set but he has watched the film many times. He wanted to point out that, because of his OCD, he calculated the deaths on screen and he realized that there were actually more deaths than the game asks for. Again, it made everyone laugh.   

– Finally, someone asked where they could purchase the game. This also drew laughter and the directors said that it is unavailable. There are only two copies in the world and that one of them is broken. More seriously, they praised the work for their friend Samuel Boucher who created the physical game, the prop. And that was it for a really fun Q&A.

(Credit to my friend Marjorie who took the picture after the Q&A)

The movie has an upcoming screening at the London FrightFest on August 26th, it’s European Premiere. Then, like one of the directors mentioned during the Q&A, the film should be launching on the Blackpills mobile app in October, divided in eight episodes.

Game of Death was simply a very entertaining flick. No need to think too far about a message, just enjoy the craziness. In classic Jumanji fashion, a crazy sequel could be possible thanks to the hilarious ending the writers thought of.  

I am giving Game of Death a 3.5 out of 5 Hairpieces!


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