“TELL YOURSELF IT’S JUST A GAME”
Category: Competitive/Game Show
Directed by: David Guy Levy
Written by: Steffen Schlachtenhaufen
Starring: Brittany Snow, Sasha Grey, Jeffrey Combs, John Heard, Logan Miller, Rob Wells
Music: Daniel Hunt, Barði Jóhannsson
Cinematography: Stephen Capitano
I’m sure everyone has played a game of “would you rather?” with their friends. Would you rather eat a cockroach or a meal worm? Bone this person or this person? So on and so forth. This 2012 film from David Guy Levy pits a group of down and out strangers against each other in a much deadlier version of this game for a big prize. It’s a great concept which is what initially got me interested, then I found out Jeffrey Combs plays the rich guy hosting this dinner party. Yup, THE Jeffrey Combs. He’s most well known for playing the modernized Victor Frankenstein, Dr. Herbert West, in the Lovecraftian Re-Animator series, Lovecraft himself in Brian Yuzna’s Necronomicon, and as a variety of alien characters in the Star Trek universe. He’s pretty much a boss. Our leading lady Iris is played by Brittany Snow from some movies and TV shows I’ve never seen, and honorable mention to Eddie Steeples who played Darnell on My Name Is Earl and Robb Wells from Trailer Park Boys (A bunch of drunken Canadians in a trailer park? Of course I love it). Iris’ brother, Raleigh (Logan Miller) has leukemia and is need of a bone marrow transplant. Bills are piling up, times are rough, I’m sure we can all sympathize. In comes Shepard Lambrick (Combs) of the Lambrick Foundation with a proposition: Come to my dinner party and compete in a game, if you win your bills will be paid and Raleigh will be moved to the top of the transplant list. How could she resist? As soon as Iris takes a seat within the Lambrick Estate we get a glimpse of Shepard’s giddy sadism, offering thousands of dollars for his guests to disregard values they’ve always held dear; enticing a vegetarian to eat a steak and a recovered alcoholic to pound a drink. Then the game begins and they are forced to choose the better of two unpleasant options when it comes to inflicting pain to themselves and their fellow attendees.
Snow and Combs are fantastic, the other actors in the film are also great but almost all the attention is on Iris so we don’t get a chance to become invested in the other characters and give a shit about them. They become fodder, feeding our own amusement as we watch these people torture themselves and each other. I feel like Levy did this so we’re forced to vicariously live through Iris, making it feel like we’re a participant in this game. We only really see what she sees, leaving a lot unanswered questions at the end of the movie. It’s a cool approach but if the focus was on a few other characters we’d have a much more emotionally charged and less predictable film. There’s also the stereotypical “badass” stock character thrown in which irked me a bit. There’s a brief smidgen of back story given to her but not enough to make her more than a necessary 2D commodity.
The storyline did initially lead to some comparisons to the Saw films but Levy avoids making this into a “torture porn”, so even though there are a lot of brutal choices being made it’s pretty tame in the gore aspect. It’s more about imagining what’s happening than actually seeing it. As much as I love entrails and guts being thrown about, the lack of such worked for the story. If the Saw sequels taught us anything, it’s that blood and guts can’t replace a good story. Well, most of the time. For the most part I really like this movie, fantastic concept, but as I said it’s fairly predictable and lacking depth in the supporting cast. I’m really looking forward to what David Levy does next although I know he’s busy running Periscope Entertainment so it may be awhile. Plus it’s just a blast to watch Jeffrey Combs act in anything, he’s fucking awesome.