Director: Hideo Nakata
Screenplay: Satoshi Suzuki
Based On A Novel By: Honobu Yonezawa
Producers: Yoshitaka Hori, William Ireton, Hiroshi Miyazaki
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Haruka Ayase, Kin’ya Kitaôji
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 107 min
Ten strangers, all in need of money for various reasons, all apply for the same mysterious job, paying ¥112,000 (£744) per hour, for seven days. Upon arriving at the remote location they are instructed to enter an underground facility, into which they will be locked with only some simple rules to live by. Firstly, they must be in bed with the lights off by 10:00pm, and secondly, any incidents that arise must be dealt with by voting, with the ‘detective’ and ‘criminal’ in each case being rewarded. The doors will open again week, or when there are only two inhabitants left alive. Oh, and there’s a ceiling-mounted robot that patrols the complex, that will enforce the rules if required.
With a title like Death Game, and with a synopsis that involves the threat of death, you’d probably expect this to be a balls-to-the-wall horror and gore fest, especially when you consider it’s directed by Hideo Nakata, most famous for helming Ringu and Dark Water. Or, if it isn’t a blood-soaked piece of schlock, it’ll have a gripping plot that will keep you engaged and guessing to the end? Surely it will at least have some moments of originality? Alas, I’m sorry to disappoint, but this is just another lackluster locked room story with nowhere to go and no way to get there. The problems are many, starting with the fact that everything here has been done before. This is far from the first film whose premise sees strangers locked inside an unfamiliar environment, before being killed off one by one by an unknown culprit, hell it even references some of the predecessors, with heavy nods to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, as well as a library full of detective stories and various potential weapons being lifted from the pages of the books within it. It’s all well and good referring to stories if you’re paying a loving homage to them, but that’s far from the case here, and in fact Death Game just falls into the same traps set up before, including having an ending that involves the number one detective cliché going. As it is, this is simply Big Brother meets Battle Royale, or any number of other films all better than this one. Maybe ten or fifteen years ago this would have been more significant, but not today.
The characters – and I use the term loosely – range from having no back story whatsoever, even when given the chance to provide one, to having multiple character arcs all vying for control within the same person. Most of the more interesting characters are nullified one way or another relatively early on, leaving little to cling to and no-one to root for. The acting isn’t that great either, with only Kin’ya Kitaôji, as the group’s eldest member Ando, and Tatsuya Fujiwara as the cowardly protagonist Yuki making any lasting impression. The film also employs a muted colour scheme, low level lighting technique and unvaried shot style that becomes monotonous and grating, as in fact do some of the other characters. Conclusions are leapt to with neither logic nor common sense being employed before hand, and this also describes most actions and decisions made by almost every person in the story. Obvious developments are made into a big deal – it’s clear from the off that the experiment is being televised, yet this is a shocking revelation to the victims, and in fact given how high the viewing figures appear to be, it’s unclear how the ten participants could be unaware of its existence. There are a number of twists, but very few that aren’t abundantly clear and heavily signposted, and in fact the main whodunit plot-driving aspect is spelled out even the central mystery has occurred, it’s just a matter of waiting for the players to catch up.
When the kills do take place there is rarely any gore, and in fact there’s nothing inherently creepy or disgusting on display. This is fine for those not to into horror, but how likely are they to watch a film entitled Death Game? At least it’s better than the original title, taken from Yonezawa Honobu’s novel, The Incite Mill. To be honest, there isn’t much here to recommend. If you’re not too familiar with these kinds of killer mystery films and you have an insatiable desire to watch stupid people make stupid decisions for barely any reason, then please go ahead with the viewing. Otherwise, this is a game best left unplayed.
Death Game is released on DVD on 8th July, released by MVM.