Do you remember playing Bloody Mary? I’ll explain for the uninitiated. Okay, so first you have to have a sleepover. You just do, it’s like a rule. Then, you eat a bunch of snacks, and while the snacks are being eated, your asshole friend tells a story of how her older sister Veronica’s friend at summer camp said “Bloody Mary” into a mirror 3-5 times in a dark room and saw the image of a screaming witch or skeletal baglady phantom or whatever. And then in this story, someone probably died a few days later. So, naturally Brittany dares Ashley and you dare Sarah, and eventually you all go as a group. You then chant together, “Bloody Mary”, or even “Bloody Mary Had Her Baby” or some other thing. Then you get freaked out but realize you didnt actually see anything. That’s the gist. Your fortune may be involved too but I never knowed no kid who played that way. Mostly it’s just a free haunted attraction and an easy way to test the limits of your friendship and trust with friends you’ve only had for 10 months.
Enter It’s Just a Game. The conceit of It’s Just a Game is those silly sleepover games that got us jacked up on spook juice (aka adrenaline) as kids. But after some bullying, some summoning, and some slaughter, IJAG ends up at an unexpected destination packed with cult-like mysticism and lore. It’s kinda like going to the doctor for a checkup and finding out while you’re in the office that you have to get a godforsaken shot.
I don’t want to spoil all the fun that comes up with Skullgirl and Miss Murder. So let’s move on.
Writer/director Daniel Emery Taylor (read my interview here) likes to write. Perhaps a little too much. It may be that the budget didn’t match the film’s ambition, but the dialoguing and monologuing comprises most of the film’s runtime. It’s a lot of telling, not showing, that works wonderfully when used sparingly, but for me, there was far too much here, and Daniel’s notable role as Brother Thaddeus is a character that naturally loves the sound of his own voice, so it works, but voiceovers would have been welcome in many spots. Especially considering all of the fantastical and mystical mumbo jumbo that comes up.
But the ambition does bear applauding. It’s obvious this film is teeming with layers and layers of unspoken lore and backstory. If that’s your thing, follow the son-of-a-gun on instagram and pick his brain for auxiliary bonus features. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to respond.
Some of the acting really grabbed me. Hannah Cohen-Lawlor as the lead Brianna, and Leah Hudspeth as the minion, Sister Amelia, were both very impressive. Hannah basically had to portray two vastly different characters and did so with ease, while Leah brought a Harley Quinn-like performance, without all of the expected cringe that normally comes with that sort of role. I hope we can expect to see more out of these ladies in the future!
All in all, It’s Just a Game felt like playing Monopoly. It starts out promising, and excitement builds as your fortune starts building, but then your douchebag brother won’t just let you lose the game when you land on his stacked Pacific Place, and instead makes you suffer and beg while he laughs maniacally on his hormone fueled pubescent power trip. That is to say, it’s not for everyone, but there’s still some fun to be had, even if it’s not your cup of tea.
Stay slime, and be rad at all times!