It's a Game
A tourist wakes up tied to a chair in a basement. Things take a turn for the worst when he sees what's around him.
Today’s film is the 2016 short Nordic horror/thriller It’s a Game written and directed by award winning director Thordur Palsson and starring Ciaran Kellgren ,Sion Lloyd and Nathan Ampofo. It is currently being featured on the 2017 winter awards by Fandependent Film Festival.
It’s a Game is a very dark story focusing on young tourist Bobby (Ciaran Kellgren) who has been abducted and taken to a secluded, dank and blood filled basement. His fears are quickly realized as a man in a mask (Nathan Ampofo) slaps him awake and shows him another young man named Phil (Sion Lloyd) who is also bound. A voice rings out across to the bound men as a clock is set between them and their hands are forced together. They must arm wrestle each other and the stakes for the loser is death. Bobby at first tries to plead with the equally bound and gagged Phil but quickly has flashes of his girlfriend which forces him to play their deadly game to it’s deadly conclusion. This however is only the beginning of the troubles in store for Bobby who has no hope for escape as the games have only just begun.
When I saw the plot of this dark Nordic thriller I immediately flashed in my mind to the Saw Franchise and groaned inwardly as I only really cared for the first of that film series and it’s constant stream of sequels killed the genre for me. That said however my assumptions were actually quite far off the mark, instead of a demented mad man trying to teach a lesson here we have gangsters forcing people to take part in a series of contests of skills while they bet on the action. This brings a level of realism to the film that most movies can’t claim at all. The story is crafted with such skill and care that you really can bring yourself to feel this sort of thing could happen and it avoids many of the standard tropes and cliches you find in other films that have a similar concept. The sitting is gritty and holds nothing back of the horrors the protagonist faces and this is really brought him by the terrific acting by the two main stars of the film.
It’s very hard to pull of a film with so little dialog in it as I have said before and it is especially hard when both your main characters do none of the limited dialog that there is. Both Ciaran Kellgren and Sion Lloyd bring both passion and depth to their characters though you never learn any more about who they are or how they got there. The character of Bobby is shown to be a man of great resolve and whose survival instinct overcomes any semblance of morality when his life and love is truly on the line. All of this is conveyed with stern looks and the deep pain and determination in his eyes when he faces the camera and the viewer can easily feel his pain and remorse at having to take another man’s life to save his own. This is something that only the greatest of Method actors have pulled off in the past and is a true testament of the skill he brings to the table. Sion Lloyd’s performance as Phil is much more subtle and yet still manages to bring forth the personality of his character with his facial expressions. Unlike Bobby Phil comes across as a jock type who thinks his greater size will save him and is filled with arrogance and confidence, this is all carried off more with his body language than his facial features and is also a very skilled performance that is a different take on the same method.
The production value of the It’s a Game is somewhat hit or miss with the cinematography being the biggest culprit. The picture quality of the film leaves something to be desired with it’s sometimes much to dark scenes that you can barely see and it’s grainy muddled picture. The scenes themselves however are shot with skill and the use of the camera centers the two main actors flawlessly. Each scene is cut in such a way that there are no continuity jumps and the characters are always in frame. If it wasn’t for the fact that the scenes were so dark and the picture quality was so grainy there wouldn’t be any issues at all with the cinematography and really shows that this young director has great potential.
The audio work of It’s a Game however is completely well done. Though there is only a few bits of dialog that are delivered via loud speaker it is crystal clear and easily audible and understood (At least for those who understand the language). The music really amps up the tension and drama while the two main characters are locked in their life and death battle though it lasts only moments. The key feature of the film however is it’s clever use of silence allowing the background of the gambling pit and the heavy breathing of the muffled men to take center stage bringing a sense of intimacy that no soundtrack could ever hope to achieve.
When all is said and done this 14 minute Nordic thriller will leave you chilled and uncomfortable in a very satisfying way. Not only does it achieve it’s goal as a horror film but it does it on the bare minimums and with the skill you might find in a mainstream production. While it has some minor faults It’s a Game is certainly worth a look by anyone who likes tension filled films that manage to imply horrific violence but never actually shows it leaving it to the viewer’s vivid imagination to fill in the blanks and serves as a case of less is more being a suitable film style.