Saturday 28 September 2013

Game (2013)

Director: Josh MacDonald
Stars: Andrea Lee Norwood, Pasha Ebrahimi, Glen Matthews and Michael McPhee
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Josh MacDonald's credits are mostly as an actor, with a long string of roles in short films and features with titles as engaging as Suburban Zombie Christmas, Foam Drive Renegades and, well, Time Farter, but he stayed behind the camera for this, his directorial debut. He also wrote and produced, so even offscreen it's clear that this film, along with the lion's share of its success, belong to him. I wasn't sold on it the first time I saw it, as a festival screener, but it played well on the big screen and it gets better with time, as the craft of the piece shines out. It's a deceptively solid little picture, one that takes the stereotypical, turns it neatly on its head and ratchets everything up a few notches for good measure. Its biggest problem is surely that nothing much seems to happen for a while. I should emphasise that it really does, merely doesn't seem to because two thirds of the film is taken up with a chase that's bereft of dialogue and relies on tension woven around characters we know nothing about.

What becomes clear with repeat viewings is that it's deceptively well crafted. The pastoral flute that bookends the film and the way the piece is shot, especially in the wetlands scenes towards the end, mark it clearly as a throwback to the seventies. Films were slower back then, with more emphasis on character, and that's what we're given as a young lady runs for her life through a Nova Scotia forest, encumbered as she is with duct tape, hand ties and chains. The credits call her a businesswoman but we know as much about her as we do about the three hillbillies chasing her, which is to say next to nothing; what we know we have to conjure out of what we see. They're patient men on the hunt for game, in one of the various meanings of the title. Jubal has a lumberjack shirt, a chainsaw and horrific burn scars on his face; Gabe favours an axe and his running make up, from the lipstick their quarry dropped, shows that he's as scarred inside as Jubal is out. Prior merely has bad teeth and an earring.

On the victim's side, we see that the businesswoman doesn't scare easily, as a beautifully shot scene with a spider ably demonstrates. She also has the gumption to try to free herself with what she finds, which lends us to believe that this isn't going to be quite as simple as the proto-torture porn we might expect. The feel remains quintessentially seventies, evoking both backwoods hillbilly horrors and rape revenge movies. What it delivers remains true as an homage to those genres but adds something very new and refreshing. The last shot, in particular, is particularly haunting. It's a gorgeous ending, with a deceptively peaceful scene sitting above a powerful undercurrent of menace. The pace is measured throughout, with three strong up periods each followed by corresponding quiet down periods, the last of which leaves us ready for more. The editing is by Jason Eisener, of Hobo with a Shotgun fame, and it's as deceptively strong as anything else here. Just make sure to watch it more than once.

Game can be watched for free, with a brief introduction by the director, at FearNet.

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