Indie horror movies are so full of heart. You can tell how much love and attention these underground filmmakers put into their craft. The outcome may not be as slick and polished as some Hollywood studio system blockbuster, but for the majority of the time, these movies are more interesting and complex.
Indie horror has a new jewel in the rough with IT’S JUST A GAME. This film is a wild ride. Once you think you have it pinned down as one type of sub-genre, it takes a wild turn and morphs into something completely different. Some reviewers may say less is more, but I love how IT’S JUST A GAME throws everything — including the kitchen sink — into the mix and lets it fly.
Brianna (Hannah Cohen-Lawlor) is a slightly nerdy orphan. She tries to fit in with the other girls at the home where she resides, but she ends up getting bullied. Brianna calls upon the spirit of an old town witch named Mother Murder (Cassandra Bryson) to exact revenge on the young ladies who pushed her around. Instead of a wicked ghost initially appearing, a murderous cult commits several savage home invasions. Next comes blood, gore, boobs, and kidnapping.
Upon the first viewing of IT’S JUST A GAME, I initially felt as though it had too many ideas and not enough direction. After thinking about it some more, I understood that this is part of the charm of this movie. Director Daniel Emery Taylor, who also produced, wrote, and portrayed the cult leader Brother Thaddeus, knew the story he wanted to tell and I think he ultimately achieved his goal.
I really dug the ’80s-style synth-driven score that opens the movie. It really helps set the tone. IT’S JUST A GAME is definitely a throwback to ’80s and ’90s teen slasher flicks. The opening scene with the group of girls having a slumber party, sitting around talking about urban legends, solidified that ’90s feel. The well-placed pop-punk soundtrack also helped with that vibe.
The characters all felt familiar, but not stale. The teen girls and their family were well-performed and very relatable. They brought to mind films like SCREAM, URBAN LEGEND, and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE. At the same time, the cult members brought to mind the psychopathic families of HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, MOTHER’S DAY (1980), and MOTEL HELL. They were very campy, ultra-violent, and — in a weird way — fun.
I have to give it up to actress Nadine Forbes, who plays Claire, the main girl bullying Brianna. She is just the kind of character I enjoy seeing slaughtered. She is your typical bitchy “mean girl.” I wanted to see this character die. So when Brianna gives her the old 976-EVIL treatment, I was cheering to see her get torn to shreds by some otherworldly force. I liked Brianna’s no-mercy attitude towards her bullies.
At about the twenty-minute mark IT’S JUST A GAME becomes a home-invasion movie. This was not what I was expecting — I was more expecting demons or ghosts, but I can roll with it. This is where you learn that all the urban legends that the girls are talking about in the beginning of the film are actually a cult who lives in an abandoned theater.
So IT’S JUST A GAME goes from being a Satanic-panic/urban-legend film to a home-invasion movie, and then, in the third act, it becomes a ghost story. There are so many twists and turns to what could have been a simple story. I would have loved to see what this movie would look like with a bigger budget. Yes, the film may have a bit of an identity crisis, but that keeps it fresh.
IT’S JUST A GAME is one for the gorehounds. It has a retro vibe, but it’s still very current. The gore is taken to ultra-trashy levels. The film is meant to be obscene and it achieves that. It has a very Herschell Gordon Lewis quality in that way. IT’S JUST A GAME would fit in perfectly in the SLEAZE BOX canon of films. This isn’t for everybody, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s gritty, gross, and leaves you wanting more.