Could you win a horror film if you barely survived it once already?
Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon) is the sole survivor of a brutal death game which was arranged by her billionaire father Cyrus DeKalb (Ray Wise) which killed her brothers Ethan and Colin (Damien Haas and Ben Siemon) and her sister, Kelsy (Florence Hartigan). Cyrus apparently covers up the killings and Miriam, who has a history of mental health issues, starts to get accused of committing the murders herself. She is approached by the Gamemaster (Morena Baccarin), a being who offers her a chance to go back and replay the events, now forewarned about what will happen. The only caveat is that the gods are wagering on the fight, so she can’t be boring. Miriam now has another chance to stop her siblings from being brutally murdered and to clear her name, but it turns out that the gods may have other plans, all under the eyes of the mysterious Overseer (William Shatner).
Basically, this film’s premise is “what if you survived Saw and got a second chance to save everyone else?” Maybe it’s Saw II, really, since that’s the one with more people, but the idea is the same. The set-up is that the DeKalb children tanked their father’s attempt to become president and he’s seeking revenge. Given that he’s voiced by Ray Wise, he is naturally believable as a ruthless corporate bastard who would kill his own progeny out of spite. This alone would be a generic horror movie and that’s what the film’s counting on, because it skips over the first run-through (for the most part) and lets us just assume it played out like a horror film. We then have to watch Miriam try to “win” the next play-through.
While other films, like the Happy Death Day franchise, have used the Groundhog Day set-up for a horror story, this is not that. There’s only one single replay, but with the added element that the gods who are betting on the outcome, including the Gamemaster, will change things they don’t like at any point. That’s both the best and worst part of the film. On the one hand, it means that this isn’t like Groundhog Day where a screw-up can just be reset. On the other hand, the fact that the gods can just get bored and undo anything at any point, something that they do multiple times in the film, means that there aren’t really any “stakes” because it’s all subject to the whims of strange higher powers. If the film focused more on the horror of that situation, I think it would have been better, but instead it just uses it to artificially prolong the fighting. I found that disappointing.
I do want to address the animation style, because I’m sure that a lot of people probably will be thrown off by that. It’s done in the style of a moving comic book, I think, which is a little less fluid and less natural than most animated films, but I think it works for the presentation given. Others may find it to be lazy, but I think it’s just a way to get the point across while also reducing animation costs.
Overall, it’s not the best movie, but it’s definitely a unique film and I think it was worth watching. This kind of idea needs to be played through again, because it could work very well on a different level. Maybe even by the same team that made this film, since the gods clearly want more wagers in the future.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.