Update: This is now on Netflix, and I have to warn the people.
Compared to Iconoclast, this was a masterpiece, but I’m not 100% sure exactly what this movie was by any other measure. On its IMDB page, it appears I’m not alone, since a ton of the reviews are super low, and others are fairly high.
The plot starts in medias res with 2 guys being accused of murder in a police station. They’re being held and interviewed separately, but delivering similar answers, claiming that they’re both demon-slaying paladins with fanciful names “Torkul of Darkhaven” (Stephen Grey) and “Abelsworth of the High Wind.” (Michael Cunningham) I braced myself at this point. It then flashes back to their origin.
It’s the 90s, the 2 guys are stoned gaming roommates, and a third guy (Daniel Falicki) brings home a board game called “13 Daemons” (no idea why they changed the spelling for the title) which had previously been banned because it caused people to go on murder sprees. The game immediately does the Jumanji “must be magnets or something” gimmick with the pieces, which one of the characters literally calls “Jumanji shit.” There’s then a 10-minute-long montage of these guys playing a roleplaying game… and it is boring. It’s just pot smoking, reading from the lore book, complaining about the smell of the game, and rolling the dice once. It’s like watching people play DnD but without the banter or coherence. Finally, one of the players gets to challenge a demon, and the movie then moves into this weird rotoscoping-style sequence that looks like either Tron or the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings. I admit, despite looking cheap and goofy, I kind of liked the sequence. It just has the player, Torkul, see an animated demon and then stab it to death.
The characters wake up in different positions with a murder reporting on the TV, bloody upside-down crosses painted in the room, and everyone in completely different positions. But, they keep playing anyway, and now, they start to descend into madness where their characters overtake them. This is represented by them reading the manual in slightly more serious tones and different voices. The acting is… well, they’re playing the “stoned” and “paladin” personas as very over the top and different, but I guess they’re supposed to be playing it that way. I’m not going to pretend this is a triumph of acting, but the director and writer (who is actor number 3) obviously knew they weren’t great, so he kept them at least somewhat in the right range for their skills.
The second player does another one of the animated sequences fighting his demon, and then comes what is undoubtedly the best sequence in the movie. The third guy is supposed to fight his demon, but instead of the animated hallucination, we see what is actually happening: He’s putting on pots and pans for armor and carrying a rubber mallet. It is done in a hilariously serious manner in the film. He then tries to slay a demon that is actually a mechanic with a tire iron, and, as would probably happen, the mechanic just beats him over the head with the tire iron. It’s genuinely an entertaining sequence.
The movie then loses steam in a very sad way. The rest is a montage of the two remaining players descending into madness while arguing over which one of them is the “purest” paladin. They basically challenge each other to a death match, then sit back down to roll the dice. It starts to flash between these scenes and the police station, where it’s revealed that they’ve been murdering random people who they thought were demons, including small children. And now, both of them believe that the last demon is the other one. The movie then ends with both of them in police custody, being charged with murder, insisting that it’s not “just a game.” It ends with literally no resolution or explanation of what’s happened.
Okay, so, I’m torn on this film. On the one hand, the concept is… well, not new, it’s kind of a combination of “Mazes and Monsters” and “Jumanji” if you watched both on pot. But, it was at least kind of interesting. The acting is over-the-top and ridiculous, but, since the characters are always either stoned or possessed by a board game, that doesn’t really make it unbearable. The special effects are cheap and cheesy, but they know they’re cheap and cheesy, so, again, it doesn’t really make upset me. The sequence of the guy in pots and pans armor is nothing short of hilarious, but the rest of the movie doesn’t really come off as humorous, so it kind of gives you tonal whiplash.
Which brings me to the thing that most pisses me off in the movie: It completely lacks any climax, either emotional or narrative. If it were a comedy, or some form of alternative film where that made sense, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s literally a quest film. It needs an ending of some sort, but instead, it just ends with the question over whether or not the game was causing the problem or if these guys are just crazy… which makes no sense because WE KNOW THE GAME IS THE PROBLEM. Even the cops should know the game is the problem. Hell, if I was their attorney, I’d point out that the game has a history of causing murder sprees, and it’s a decent defense to raise, which makes the ending argument really, really dumb.
Honestly, this is almost a decent movie, it just doesn’t go anywhere. They just stretched a joke premise into 80 minutes, like Boss Baby, but it wasn’t funny… like Boss Baby. I really wish it had been either better or worse, because it really comes out as quality-pH 7. It also is never explained how they actually managed to kill this many people, since it’s revealed that one of them was using a stick. Not a large stick, just a stick. I mean, one guy got killed for trying to use a rubber mallet in his assault, and that’s significantly more lethal than the stick. Also, at the end, the police mention that the game was, indeed, banned because it caused people to go on killing sprees, which makes it more confusing that these guys tried the game in the first place, because that’s not a rumor, that’s a Federal law. Also, is it magic? Or is it chemical? I mean, they complain that the game smells, so, it’s possible that it’s just a hallucinogen. Also, the game clearly took like 12 hours of playing to start possessing them, so… how many people really could have had the dedication to play this game to the point of murderous rage?
This movie had some entertaining sequences, but the ending just felt like they ran out of budget, and the fact that about 30 minutes of it is just people reading a book and rolling dice really didn’t help. The movie wasn’t self-aware enough to be Chucky-sequel entertaining, wasn’t bad enough to be The Room level entertaining, and wasn’t good enough to be… good. But, I’ll be damned if the pots and pans armor wasn’t funny.
Skip this movie, unless you’ve really got a lot of alcohol and have run out of other bad movies.
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Preliminary: Sober, slightly ill, and bracing myself. I’ve been told this is better than Iconoclast, but that bar is basically saying “less crazy than Manson.” Hopefully, this one will at least keep my interest.
7:45 – Movie starts with a quote by William Howard Taft that I’m 90% sure is not actually by William Howard Taft. A cursory Google during the credits indicates that it’s unsourced and just being repeated on the internet. Auspicious start.
7:46 – Film quality is significantly better than Iconoclast, but not much above Birdemic. Starts off in police interrogation in medias res.
7:47 – Main character introduces himself as Torkul of Darkhaven, and I’m already slightly worried about the writing. The acting of the other characters in the scene is… I’m gonna have to go with The Room level, but without the dedication.
7:53 – Flashback begins. Oh my God, it’s Jumanji meets DnD. The TV is a tube tv and they’re playing the Dragon’s Lair NES Port, so I’m guessing it’s either the 90s, or they’re poor.
7:55 – And the main characters just said that it’s “Jumanji shit.” At least they know what they’re ripping off. If this ends up just being like that Tom Hanks movie “Mazes and Monsters,” and it’s just in their heads, I might applaud.
8:07 – After a 10-minute montage of 3 stoned guys trying to play this RPG (amounting to 1/8 of the total runtime) and complaining about how bad the game smells, we finally get to the magic shit. The magic effects look like the rotoscoping from Tron and the Bakshi Lord of the Rings. This movie came out in 2016, so that’s dated, but… eh, fuck, I love Tron and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, so it’s working for me.
8:12 – Okay, so they woke up in completely different positions around the room to hear about a murder, the game has changed, and they decide to just keep playing. Yeah, I get nuts about finishing games too.
8:19 – I think the writers greatly overestimated how much audiences would enjoy having rulebooks and lore read to them onscreen for large amounts of time by guys who either are stoned, or play it very well.
8:21 – I get that they’re supposed to be descending into Madness and stuff, but they’re either overselling it or underselling it by just repeating the same lines 5 times.
8:22 – Okay, more rotoscoping-style stuff. Again they wake up in different positions to hear about a murder, and they go back to playing. It’s now been at least 2 full days of playing. This cursed game really takes its time. Jumanji started stuff on roll 1.
8:26 – These guys are not good actors. It was not a great decision to focus most of the movie on them just talking and reading a book aloud.
8:29 – “Roll a 3, take the Right Path. Roll a 4, take the Left.” Okay, but… it’s a 6-sided die. What do they do with the other numbers? I NEED ANSWERS!!!!
8:31 – Alright, rather than the magic this time, they’re just putting on Pots and pans as armor. I might love this movie.
8:36 – “Go back to oblivion to suck on your mother’s teat” might be my new favorite way to call someone out. But now the crazy gamer has a rubber mallet, and the other guy is a mechanic with a tire iron. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t win.
8:37 – To the movie’s credit, he didn’t win.
8:40 – Okay, so they killed a ton of people, including a child. I’m very intrigued as to how this works out. I want it to turn out that all of these people actually were possessed, but I think we’re going the straight route.
8:50 – And now they’re challenging each other to a fight, but then they still have to play the rest of the game by dice rolling. I… Don’t know what the rules are here.
8:57 – “It’s a game.” “It’s not a game.” X 20 is apparently the dialogue now.
8:58 – WHAT? THAT’S THE END? THAT’S NOT AN ENDING!!!
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