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This was another film that I caught at the Nightmares Film Festival. I didn't know anything about it and a filmmaker that I met the morning of it showing recommended checking it out. He did state that it was a wild animated horror film. It was actually the Midwest premiere of it, so that was something that caught my interest as well. The synopsis is in order to save her siblings, a young woman takes on her father and the powerful entity known as the Gamemaster (Morena Baccarin), who ensnares humans into diabolical plots while her species gambles on the outcome.
We actually start this with a bit of voice-over narration from The Overseer (William Shatner). He fills us in on Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon) as she flees from a building by breaking the windows of the door with a fire ax. She's taken to the hospital where a detective Lang (Tom Lommel) questions her. She tells him what happened and he doesn't believe her father did what she is claiming. That's when she's visited by the Gamemaster. She's given a choice to go back and do what she did all over again, with some rules and to make a good show. She agrees when she sees that her predicament is worse than she realized.
Just as background information, her father is Cyrus DeKalb (Ray Wise). He's a horrible business man who learns that he has a brain tumor that is inoperable. He's going to die soon so he calls all of his children together. The problem is that he was trying to become Vice President of the United States and under Miriam, her and her siblings ruined that.
They all meet up in the lobby of his high rise building. Miriam works for a non-profit where they want to eliminate war profiteering which her father made his money from. Cyrus just stole a funder away though and they're in trouble. Her sister is Kelsey (Florence Hartigan) who has an addiction to prescription medication and married a rival CEO to her father. There are also her two brothers Ethan (Damien Haas) and Colin (Ben Siemon). One of them is a wannabe rock star while the other works in business like his father. None of them really get along though.
The group goes up to Cyrus' office where they learn why they're there. He tells them that he's dying and that he wants to play a game. He is going to challenge them to overcome their issues with different challenges that will force them to face different things. Helping Cyrus facilitate this is Pavel (Bill Moseley) and another henchman. Miriam seems to have inside information, but is it really coming from Gamemaster or has she just lost her mind and not realizing that her boyfriend gave her the information that she has?
Since this is a festival film, I wanted to go a little bit lighter on the recap here. There are a lot of things that happen a couple of different times, just in slightly different ways each time. Even though it is repetitive, it doesn't feel that way, especially when you really get into this movie and that will take me to my first point.
What I was struck by with this is that it feels a lot like a supernatural Saw film for a couple different reasons. The first is that Cyrus using games like from those films to punish his children. In the first version, they all work and he's able to kill his children aside from Miriam. That's when the Gamemaster intervenes because the game she is running is gambled on by cosmic beings. What I like though is that there's this feeling that she might not be real and that Miriam just has a break with reality. Either way, we get an animated version of Saw where we can see these things playing out and the effect it has on the characters.
I will admit though, taking on a film like this as an animated feature does take some of the tension away for me. My father and I actually chatted about making things animated as opposed to live action. I've just made the point that you can do more things in animation that you might not in practical or CGI effects. Personally for me though, when I see bad things happen to a cartoon character, it doesn't carry the same impact as seeing an actor pretend like they are.
To switch it up a bit, I did want to go over the effects or in this case, the animation. It's not my favorite, but that's because for me I have so much nostalgia for the early Looney Tunes or cartoons that were popular in the early 90's, as that is what I grew up on. What we get here is really good though. This has a slight feel of like an American anime as all of the women are big chested and scantly clad. We get some cool kills and blood. They know how to hide the characters when they're moving to avoid making it look wonky, which I liked as well.
With that said, it's definitely paced well. We get that jarring start, which works for setting the stage for this game. I like that it establishes Miriam as being unstable. We at first think it could be because of what she survived, but the more we learn, the more I wondered if she had a psychotic break and this is her dealing with it. The game being rewound and things being redone I did have a slight issue with, but it really is a crux of the film. I didn't mind how it ended and I legit could see if there's a higher power, them being assholes like we see here for sure.
That will take me to the last aspect which is the voice acting. There are actually some heavy hitters here. Baccarin is good as the Gamemaster. She has a great voice and I like that she can get stern if need be. I'll be honest that I couldn't tell that Pavel was voiced by Moseley, which is great because she's such a sadistic character in this one. Well done to him for sure. Wise is great and so villainous here, he fits Cyrus so well. Lennon was good as our lead and I think all of her siblings fit well for their character. Shatner really only has a few parts here, but it fun to hear his voice. The rest of them fit their characters to round this one out.
Now with that said, this was definitely an intriguing film to check out. I really like that we have a few different layers here to this deadly game being played. It really does feel like a game of Saw that these cosmic characters are betting on. For me, being that this is animated allows them to do certain things, but for me personally I have issues connecting and worrying about the characters. I do think that it is still paced in a way where it kept my interest, even though things get rewound to make the game more interesting. I did like how it ended though for sure. The voice acting is great. The soundtrack didn't stand out, but it did fit for what was needed. Overall I'd say this film is above average for sure and I'd say give this a viewing if you like animated horror films.
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