Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Asphyx (1972)

*. I have to admit, I went in to this with one question paramount in my mind: How do you pronounce “Asphyx”? The answer? “Ass-fix.” I probably should have guessed.
*. That matter settled, what we have here is a surprisingly off-beat British horror flick. The premise is demented. Apparently each of us has a personal demon known as an asphyx that comes to take away our soul after death. This is not a comforting thought, or one that fits very well with any religious tradition I’m aware of.
*. As researcher Sir Hugo Cunnigham (Robert Stephens) discovers, however, the asphyx can be seen hovering around a person who is approaching death, and by use of a phosphorus lamp can be trapped in a case. This means that the person whose asphyx is so contained is now effectively immortal. I’m not sure why this should be so, but it is.
*. Being a good man of science, Sir Hugo experiments first on a white lab rat, making it immortal by capturing its asphyx in a special cabinet. Note that animals have souls too. Might we do the same with plants as well, or anything organic? The question is left open. In any event, satisfied with the results Sir Hugo goes on to immortalize himself, and plans to do the same with the rest of his family. Alas, as errors compound he learns that “providence is not to be tampered with.”
*. The Asphyx was directed by Peter Newbrook, and I believe it was his last film (he later went on to work a lot in television). His previous movie had been Crucible of Terror, another real oddity that I enjoyed. He obviously had a thing for making movies outside of the box. It’s too bad he didn’t have a chance to do more, but the British film industry was contracting in the 1970s.
*. The story came from Christina and Laurence Beers, who I don’t know anything about and didn’t find any other credits for. The script was written by Brian Comport, who did a couple of other obscure (and weird) horror titles and that’s it. The nearest analog I can think of is The Picture of Dorian Gray, but even that’s little more than an echo, with the asphyx in the basement the guarantor of Hugo’s immortality. But Hugo does age, even if his lab rat, his “companion for all eternity,” doesn’t.
*. Of course this part of the story doesn’t make sense. Why should it only be Sir Hugo’s face that ages? How is he still ambulatory? And how is he maintaining that asphyx casket after all these years, since he can’t get into the basement?
*. Using a guillotine as a near-death experience was perhaps not the wisest move. I’m just saying.
*. But then the death traps the characters use are all kind of fun in a Dr. Phibes sort of way. An electric chair. A guillotine. A gas chamber. The Jigsaw killer might have been taking notes.
*. It’s all very silly. If Giles just wants to kill himself at the end, for example, and that clearly is all that he wants to do, why bother going through that rigamarole about replacing the crystals and pumping his chamber full of oxygen so he can blow himself up? Why not just take some poison and call it a day?
*. So now I’ve called it demented, silly, and fun. I enjoyed it. The frame narrative is a nice gag, and watching them play around with all the Victorian technology is a treat. I don’t think there’s anything very profound about The Asphyx, but there is melodrama if not tragedy in its story of a man who basically annihilates his entire family and then, faced with a choice between grief and nothing, chooses grief.


The Belko Experiment (2016)

*. By “experiment” we mean the now familiar formula of the Game of Death. It’s the Saw concept applied to the boardroom, as had been done previously (but with far less bloodshed) in The Method and Exam.
*. A company of white-collar employees working for the Belko Corporation are trapped inside an office building. A voice (credited as The Voice) tells them that before a certain amount of time has elapsed a number of them will have to die (that is, be killed). There’s no opting out because all the employees have had bombs implanted at the base of their skulls to make their heads explode if they don’t behave. Let the games begin!
*. I thought at first that this was going to be a black comedy. It was written by James Gunn, who wrote the mock-horror movie Slither and the mock-comic book Guardians of the Galaxy, and I think the Game of Death genre is just as ripe for such ironic treatment. I also thought the poster, of a man holding a tape dispenser aloft like he’s about to brain someone with it, was a sign that they’d be going for laughs.
*. But The Belko Experiment is not a comedy. There are a couple of moments of comic relief, but that’s it. The business with the tape dispenser is played pretty much straight up. Somebody gets their head beaten in with it.
*. I’m assuming some sort of satire was meant, but if so I’m not sure what the target was. There’s no pointed political commentary being made on the violence of office politics or fascistic corporate culture. And why the hell the film is set in Bogotá, Colombia is entirely beyond me. I mean, most of the employees are American, with a few English-speaking Hispanics mixed in. So why aren’t we just in some southern California corporate park?
*. In other words, this is a Game of Death film where the game is of no interest at all. The victims aren’t being taught a lesson or asked to solve some devilish puzzle. It’s basically just a last-man-standing slaughter party. Which is lucky for the film’s hero, since he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Normally you’re meant to identify with the people trapped in these experiments, and enjoy watching them figure things out. But here everyone seems to descend not to savagery but to the sort of stupidity you’d expect in an idiot plot. This is fatal to a film of this kind, since despite their reputation for mindless violence they’re usually quite talky and smart. Not here.
*. About the only new wrinkle is the Lord of the Flies-style of tribalism. Or, to take the more proximate inspiration, the demonic team-building of Battle Royale. Even that, however, has its limits and (as they all must have anticipated) things finally devolve into the war of all against all. The point? Even the people running the game don’t know. Basically it’s a social psychology experiment “unfettered by conventional concepts” (which is an awkward way of putting it). Finally, an ironic twist (which had been done before as one of the alternate endings of House of 9, and had at least been suggested in Circle) lets us know that the game is all there is, and it never ends.
*. So it’s not very original. Aside from other Game of Death films we might also think of high-rise horrors like Mayhem or High-Rise that came out around the same time. It’s not very funny, or really funny at all. It has no point. Nevertheless it does have some energy to it, and for whatever reason (I have my own theories) there seems to be a real demand for depicting such reversions to (or revelations of) a latent savagery. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and it’s televised.

Circle (2015)

*. “I want to play a game,” says Billy the Puppet. What you want is irrelevant since you don’t really have a choice in the matter. When you wake up, you’re already in the thick of it. But more than that, the game is clearly the game of life. We all have to play.
*. We’d been here before. The Most Dangerous Game took the idea of the survival of the fittest to its logical conclusion. Sure it was a rich man’s game, an artificial construction if ever there was one, but it was meant to represent nature red in tooth and claw. Winners live, losers die. The law of the jungle.
*. In later years the struggle for survival would even be televised: we could see the results in movies like Rollerball, The Running Man, and Battle Royale, or watch the “real” thing on shows like Survivor. It became entertainment not just for an elite but for the masses. And then it would take a turn for the sadistic. Enter Billy and the torture games.
*. Circle‘s writing-directing team of Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione had done their own take on extreme reality TV with a short-lived series called The Vault. You can see this movie as an outgrowth of that show, but the idea was everywhere in the twenty-first century.
*. In all these various guises what we’re presented with is the same basic existential dilemma: discovering ourselves in an absurd position, we must somehow affirm the value and meaning of our lives by testing ourselves against other people, fate, God, or whatever cosmic or natural forces seem to be pulling the strings.
*. No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre is a drama presenting us with three characters locked in a room together for what may be eternity. Though well appointed, the room is actually a torture chamber of sorts that they can’t think their way out of. In retrospect it might be seen as an intellectual version of Saw (as well as a lot of other movies). It’s really hard to overstate the prevalence of the theme at this time. As evidence I’d only point to a movie like Predators, where I made the connection between Sartre’s play and a group of people who suddenly find themselves tossed into the most dangerous game.
*. Circle certainly had me thinking of No Exit, both for the set-up (once again we have a group of characters waking up to find themselves trapped in a chamber of hell where they are being killed off) and for the general Little Theatre heatre vibe to the proceedings. The whole thing was reportedly shot in under two weeks on a single set and one could easily imagine a stage version being produced.
*. As far as its film heritage is concerned, the closest resemblance is to Cube (1997), a movie that was definitely in mind. (Hann and Miscione, for what it’s worth, claim their main influence to have been 12 Angry Men, which I don’t see at all.) Again the central question is “What are we doing here?” meaning, more broadly, what are we doing alive, on this planet (if we’re still on this planet), just as much as “What are we doing in this crazy prison?”
*. With regard to the latter, more immediate, question, we have to give the prisoners or contestants credit for figuring the game out in one hell of a hurry. They are, however, slow to understand that the best strategy is to keep a low profile because it’s obvious from the get-go that opening your mouth is just going to land you in trouble. Especially when you reveal yourself as intolerant or bigoted, as well as a player.
*. In at least one way, however, I’d say the speed with which they understand how the game works is unrealistic. Why, for example, would they assume that one of them is going to live at the end? Couldn’t the aliens just zap whoever’s left over? Since we have no idea what the purpose of the game is, there’s no way for us to tell how it might end, or if there would be a winner.

*. The trick in making a movie so limited in its resources is to not so much conceal those limitations as to make us forget about them. Circle does a decent job of this, with the relentless pace of the game forcing the drama along (at least one contestant gets removed every two minutes), and enough surprise picks to keep things interesting. If I had a complaint about the minimal presentation it’s that the design of the circle itself and the sound effects used to signal an approaching vote make it all seem a little too much like a television game show. I wonder if the aliens in fact imitated this look and sound to make the contestants feel more at home.
*. For some reason the game also reminded me of the Carousel that culls the population in Logan’s Run. Not an association I think the producers would want audiences to make.
*. Do we mind that the end is left enigmatic? Some people actually found it provided too much information, as compared, for example, to Cube. I didn’t mind being left hanging as to what the point of it all is, though given the outcome of the contest it seems clear that there wasn’t any point. The contest plays out like one of those classic social psychology experiments (Milgram, Zimbardo), but one that we can’t draw any conclusions from. We don’t know if it was even intended as an experiment or just as a game show. If the latter, there is no need to point a moral at the end.
*. I wish the script worked a bit better. I would like to have seen more confusion on the part of the contestants. Instead, the bickering falls into predictable patterns and there are too many exchanges that sound scripted and obvious. That is, again, a Little Theatre kind of thing that makes it seem more like we’re watching a filmed play. The directorial style (lots of long shots and smooth transitions) exaggerates this further, and personally I think they should have tried to ratchet things up visually to inject the odd note of chaos and urgency.
*. What we’re left with is a good little movie, talky and far less graphic than you’d expect given the current state of the genre but at the same time not one that shows us anything new. In a lot of ways it’s really a throwback. Hann and Miscione also cite the original Twilight Zone series as being an inspiration, which debuted just a couple of years after 12 Angry Men. Given the time delay in picking up our broadcasts in another corner of the universe, perhaps these were the programs the aliens have been watching on their journey to Earth and their game was just an attempt at re-creating what they figured would be a more natural human environment. Heaven help us if the next wave of visitors have been watching anything we’ve made in the last twenty years.

The Maze Runner (2014)

*. This is one of those movies that’s hard for me to comment on since I’m not the target audience. It’s a YA movie, of a particular type that became very popular around this time, and I’m no longer a young adult.
*. God knows it’s familiar territory though. The main character awakes to find himself trapped in a situation where he has to survive some kind of test being run by an unseen auditor. I call these movies the Game of Death films, and they’re basically all the children of Cube (from which this one borrows a lot) and Saw. In this case the Game is crossbred with the YA dystopian fantasy genre, which found its most popular expression in the Hunger Games franchise. If you want to trace the genealogy back further you’d find Lord of the Flies and other things, but that’s not necessary, especially as this film isn’t an allegory of much of anything beyond the usual rite-of-passage stuff.
*. Once you’ve identified the sources being drawn on there’s not a lot to add. The premise itself is so far-fetched it’s beyond belief. I mean, it makes the prison block in Cube seem perfectly reasonable. Indeed, upon considering the matter a little more deeply, I think this may be the most outrageously stupid idea for a film that there has ever been. It makes absolutely no sense at all that the WCKD company would have gone through this much trouble to run such an elaborate and staggeringly expensive experiment that they could have managed far more effectively at a fraction of the cost some other way.
*. Putting all of that aside, I find it interesting how so many of these dark, dystopic visions are now being pitched to YA audiences. Perhaps young people today are starting to realize just how badly they’ve been screwed. Too bad, kids! There’s no future for you.
*. Then there is the softly elided sexual angle. A prison colony full of boys right at the age when their hormones are peaking and, yeah, I think Teresa might be in some real trouble. The note that came up on the elevator with her saying that she would be the last such colonist could only be interpreted as a signal to the others to begin breeding season. Meanwhile, heaven knows the convicts in the Glade must have been pounding a lot of ass over the course of the last three years, but you never hear any mention of it and none of the boys seem to have paired off.
*. And if you say, “But it’s a YA movie,” I can only respond that a YA audience would know damn well what I’m talking about. Perhaps better than anyone.
*. As in any YA high-school flick the characters we meet are all types, and they’re arranged in the usual social hierarchies, giving rise to the usual small group dynamics (though, as already noted, without any hint of who’s dating who).
*. In addition to this familiar subject matter, the movie telegraphs all of its plot points so that nothing remotely surprising happens. When a character finds himself at “just another dead end” you can be sure that . . . it isn’t! When it seems like Thomas and Minho aren’t coming back out of the maze alive and everyone turns away . . . wait! There they are! You didn’t think Alby was going to get killed when everything went quiet there after the Griever attack? You didn’t think the maudlin business with Chuck’s carving was going to get used later? If so, you don’t watch many movies.
*. I understand that Minho knows the sequence for the way the maze opens up, but how would he know the code to open the door based on that, since he wouldn’t know what the first number in the sequence was?
*. Wouldn’t the Runners’ shoes have worn out after three years? Or is the company sending more up all the time in the elevator? And does the company do their laundry too?
*. Does all this make it sound like I hated The Maze Runner? Well, I didn’t. I just thought it was predictable fare that followed a bunch of conventions in a rather ridiculously epic way. I mean, giant mechanical spiders? Why?
*. In other words, it’s sort of like a superhero movie, where you can say that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Still, like most of the better superhero movies, it does pass the time. Or at least I assume it does if you’re young enough to get it.

Would You Rather (2012)

*. Darn. I really had my hopes up for this one.
*. The basic concept is nothing new. Rich guy offers a ton of money to whoever can win (that is, survive) a game he’s arranged among a group of eight dinner guests. We have been here before. It might be House on Haunted Hill updated with torture challenges that play out like reality-TV contests. Elsewhere I’ve called this the Game of Death genre. Think Saw and all of its offspring (House of 9, Breathing Room, Kill Theory, etc.).
*. But actually it’s less interesting, and a lot less enjoyable, than even that would make you think.
*. In the first place there are no surprises. You know the rescue attempt is going to fail even before it gets started. That’s Stephen King 101 (on the commentary, director David Guy Levy references The Shining as his favourite film, so you know where this part is coming from). The challenges play out as expected, and I’d also flag the bitter twist at the end as a foregone conclusion. Honestly, I was just waiting for all of this to play out so I could go watch something else.
*. Just as an aside, it’s interesting to note how many of these failed saviours are black. Scatman Crothers in The Shining. Danny Glover in Saw. Lawrence Gillard Jr. here. It’s sort of like the cliché about the black guy dying first in one of those body-count slasher films. If a black guy is coming to rescue you, you’re out of luck.
*. Second: None, and I mean not one, of the games is even remotely interesting in itself. Basically the guests are just choosing between different forms of torture: electrocution, stabbing, drowning, beating. That’s it. Couldn’t they have come up with something just a bit different? Have them eat poisonous bugs?
*. Third: The script is weak and disjointed. What stands out the most here is the character of Julian. Why even introduce him? What purpose does he serve? And why aren’t we given even the hint of an explanation of why Lambrick is doing all this? Would that have been too much to ask? It would have at least given Jeffrey Combs, an actor I normally enjoy, something to do other than hamming up the part of the faux-solicitous MC. This goes past tiring to downright annoying in a hurry, before finally becoming insufferable. I honestly think there were a couple of the tortures I would have voluntarily chosen over just having to listen to him blab through the rest of the meal.
*. Lambrick doesn’t even play fair, basically killing off Amy (Sasha Grey) for the hell of it. What was up with that?
*. As another example of this kind of scattershot effect, there’s a terrific opening title sequence using X-rays that are given a 3D effect. They look great. But what do they have to do with anything? Are they Raleigh’s X-rays? Of his whole skeleton? I don’t see how that would make any sense, but it’s the best I can come up with.
*. Taking a step back, can we say if there’s a point to any of this? Perhaps it’s a satire on the New Philanthropy. If poor people want handouts they’re going to have to perform. Beggars are necessarily victims. Julian calls the guests pigs and orders them to show him respect, while Lambrick expects Iris to thank him for all he’s done for (not to) her. So much for our overclass of benefactors.
*. My interpretation, for what it’s worth, is that Lambrick is meant to be representative of film producers, with the aspiring filmmakers as guests being made to do tricks in order to get funding. I actually wrote that down on my notepad while watching the movie and only later realized that Lambrick is the name of the production company that released the film. So we’re not really talking about class warfare here so much as an allegory of the movie biz. I don’t think that’s very deep, but again it’s the best I can do.
*. I never like to leave off without saying something good about a movie, so I’ll mention that I liked Brittany Snow’s performance. She’s a lot better here than she was in Prom Night. So there.
*. I could go on and on, but I won’t bother. Not only is this one not as intelligent as it thinks it is, it isn’t intelligent at all. They didn’t want to go the gore route but instead tried to be more “reserved” and “psychological.” A worthy goal, but they didn’t get there. It’s an unoriginal, downright tired entry into the torture porn sweepstakes with scarcely a moment of suspense or dramatic tension. I hope getting it funded didn’t involve as much trouble as what the dinner guests are put through, but then shouldn’t we all be made to suffer for our art?

Elevator (2011)

*. What a disaster. One of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen some dogs. Honestly, if I had a rating system where I scored movies on a scale from 1 to 10 I’d be struggling to think of a reason why this would deserve a 1.
*. Why is it so awful? Incoherence and stupidity.
*. The set-up: a group of nine people are stuck between floors in a malfunctioning elevator. One of then is wearing a bomb. Will the others escape? How?
*. You may be hoping for suspenseful drama in the great tradition of Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. One of the characters actually says that being in the elevator is sort of like Lifeboat. Some reviewers picked up on this not-so-subtle hint and found the movie “Hitchockian.” Apparently an allusion to Hitchcock is all it takes to be Hitchcockian. Aren’t we better than that? (Answer: No.)
*. Incoherence. What I mean by this, mainly, is tonal incoherence. We go lurching from thrills to comedy and back again without any rhyme or reason. But the thrills aren’t scary and the attempts at comedy aren’t funny. Indeed, everyone in the elevator even says that the angry comic (Joey Slotnick) isn’t funny. There’s also Devin Ratray on hand as the funny fat guy, but he isn’t funny either. Then there’s an ineffectual security guard with a knife he uses to clean his fingernails and that they later have to use to saw a corpse in half. I guess that could have been funny, but it isn’t.
*. The characters are also inconsistent. The comic is introduced as a hotheaded bigot who proceeds to down a flask of booze and then . . . turns nice, even to the little girl who is responsible for the mess everyone is in!
*. Could you murder a child? This movie will sure make you want to. Madeline is awful. Are we meant to feel any sympathy for her, even at the end? That’s too big a stretch for me.
*. As for the stupidity, I just couldn’t believe a minute of what was happening. It’s a prestigious Manhattan office building but when the elevator gets stuck nobody can do anything. The desk help even gets tired of the owner of the building buzzing them and just hangs up. Then, when the situation is broadcast on the evening news, it takes half an hour for a bomb squad to actually make it to the elevator! Which they open with machine guns drawn! What’s the bomb going to do, fire at them?
*. Or take the scene where they’re checking to see if the dead woman had a bomb on her. Why is this dragged out for so long? If they think she might have had a bomb, wouldn’t they be impatient to find out? In a bit of a rush?
*. The best that can be said about the ending is that they didn’t try to tie everything up with a tidy epilogue. Instead, they don’t bother addressing any of the issues raised. Will the engaged couple get back together? Will the guy who lost his arm even live? Will the tycoon make good on his promise to pay everyone a million bucks? What about the pregnant lady and her baby?
*. Well, at least we know what happens to the chubby man. “I guess I’m the hero.” No, you’re not the hero. You did nothing. You were too fat to get out of the elevator. How does that make you a hero? Because heroes always die?
*. But then is there anyone on this elevator we’re supposed to be cheering for, or who we’re even hoping will live? Yes, things really are that grim. If you want to watch a somewhat decent movie about a bunch of people trapped in an elevator you might want to check out Devil. But whatever you do don’t get on this lift.

Devil (2010)

*. I really shouldn’t be impressed by something as simple (and kind of stupid) as the upside-down shots of Philly in the opening credit sequence, but for some reason they really got me in the mood. For what, I wasn’t sure. But I felt primed.
*. What then follows is a very slick and effective production of a very stupid idea.
*. The basic premise is the locked-room thriller, with a group of people trapped in a confined space and being eliminated one-by-one. It’s very close to the Game of Death sub-genre (we even have a security camera watching the proceedings), but there’s no sense that this is a contest.
*. Given the premise I thought it was very well handled. The one cheat I didn’t appreciate was the simple expedient of turning the lights off every time someone gets killed, and then turning them back on to reveal the body. That’s the same trick they use in the Game of Death film Breathing Room, where they at least had the excuse of having no budget to work with. Here it had me swearing out loud at the screen.
*. But then there’s the stupid twist, which is the supernatural angle. In most of these films the locked-room has either (a) been engineered by a sadistic psychopath (Saw, Kill Theory, Would You Rather) or (b) been set in some vague SF-style future where the elimination game is a way of packaging punishment or entertainment (Cube, Breathing Room, House of 9, Circle). Here, however, it’s all the work of the devil.
*. This won’t come as any surprise, given the film’s title. But it’s still pretty stupid. The most basic question, which has plagued devil movies at least since The Exorcist, is why such a powerful entity as the devil (or a devil) would bother him- or herself with such a petty scheme.
*. As with many of these movies the trapped people all turn out to be guilty of something. This is the No Exit theme. But a blackmailer? A former gangster (who at least seems to be trying to turn his life around)? Some jerk who once operated a Ponzi scheme? Why would the devil be interested in this bunch of losers stuck in a lift?
*. Wouldn’t there be an easier way for the devil to go about harvesting souls? Perhaps something a little more private? Apparently the devil likes an audience. This is news to me, since in all of human history we haven’t been able to find any proof of his existence, at least of the kind captured on security cameras here. But such lore comes to us from a reliable source because, yes, once again we have the cliché of the ethnic character — in this case the security guard Ramirez — who is still connected (via the stories his mother told him) with some kind of folk spiritual wisdom that the advanced, white, professional types have all lost touch with.
*. All of this leads up to a really hokey ending, carrying a message of (Christian) forgiveness and a line about how “if the devil is real, then God must be real too.” Does that make you feel better?
*. Devil was conceived as the first instalment in what was billed as The Night Chronicles trilogy, a trio of films to be produced by M. Night Shyamalan that were each to have supernatural storylines. Which is fine. I have nothing against the supernatural. I just don’t like to see it presented in such a trite way.
*. Things end on an odd note. All the main characters are given first and last names in the film, but none of them are identified by name in the credits. Instead, “Ben Larson” is just Guard, “Sarah Caraway” is Young Woman, “Jane Kowski” is Old Woman, “Vince McCormick” is Salesman, etc. I wonder if the thinking was that nobody in the audience would identify any of these people as characters but only as types. If so, that may say as much about how little they believed in the story they were telling as it does about their estimation of their audience. In either case I found it fitting, as I cared less and less about the characters as things went on and was fine with seeing them dismissed not to hell but into anonymity.

Nine Dead (2010)

*. The one thing you have to say about these Game of Death films is that they really need a tight script. Basically you just have a group of characters trapped together in a confined space (a single set) for the whole movie, talking. So the talk, perhaps interrupted by the odd burst of violence, has to be good.
*. I’m happy to say that the script for Nine Dead, by Patrick Wehe Mahoney, is pretty good. I don’t think there’s much else to like about the movie, but the story set its hook and kept me interested right up to the end. That’s more than I can say for most of the Saw franchise.
*. The set-up has it that nine people are kidnapped (tasered this time), and chained up in a warehouse somewhere. A masked man informs them that he’ll be killing one of them every ten minutes until they can tell him why all this is happening. So basically they have to work together and find out what they have in common. A clock on the wall counts down the time.
*. That’s a fine idea, and pretty bold too because such a story is nothing but build-up. Will all the loose ends manage to be tied together at the end? Once everything is explained, will it all make sense?
*. Well, it’s not perfect, but in my opinion it did as well in this regard as could be expected. I didn’t think the end was a cheat, and it did at least make sense.
*. Of course I had some objections. These mainly concerned the very real hierarchy of guilt that was basically ignored by the killer. Some of the victims were clearly more culpable than others, like Coogan (the pedophile rapist) and Kelley (the D.A.). Others, like Leon and Sully, seemed to have only the faintest, most tangential relationship to the events in the back story. They had every right to feel pissed off at being lumped in with the others. I like how, when the killer secretly tells Christian why he is being killed, Christian is baffled at how he could possibly have known. Coogan, on the other hand, accepts his fate with a shrug. For him it seems fair enough.
*. I was surprised that the directors of another Game of Death film, Circle (2015), said that they had been inspired by 12 Angry Men. I didn’t see the connection there, but it’s far more obvious in a movie like this, where the sequestered group have to reconstruct a crime and deliver a verdict, only in this case on themselves.
*. So that’s all to the good. This is a decent psychological thriller with a script that puts less emphasis on violence and more on problem solving. As I’ve said, however, there isn’t much else to get excited about. I didn’t think it was presented in a very interesting way, and the acting was only passable at best. Critics were predictably unkind, but I think some of this was just laziness. If you like this kind of movie I’d recommend giving it a try.