Director: Tony D'Aquino
Year of release: 2019
Country of origin: Australia/UAE
Running time: 82 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "Stay alive or die trying".
Estimated budget: 25,000,000 (AUS $)
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: A sinister organisation kidnaps young women with the intention of dumping them into a sick game recorded and broadcast for the viewing pleasure of their bloodthirsty subscribers. The luckless women abducted find themselves stranded in an eerie forest type oasis surrounded by desert where they’re hunted down and killed by vicious masked brutes. One of these unfortunates, Kayla, looks to upset the apple cart by turning the tables on those hunting her, fighting back while also looking to save a friend snatched at the same time as herself. Making things more difficult for Kayla is that she suffers from epilepsy, on top of this she realises she may not even be able to trust those women in the same position as herself as the line between victims and monsters begins to blur.
Good points: *With so many slasher type villains running amok there’s a great collection of masks on display. The beasts as they’re referred to all look the part and though some are better than others there wasn’t a single one whom I felt looked below par. They’re all intimidating and help provide a true sense of menace for the wearer. I was never totally sure of the specific names for each individual beast but my personal favourite mask was the one with the O shaped mouth worn by the guy carrying a sickle.
*Probably the thing most touted about as a selling point for the film upon its release were the gore effects. These on occasion truly are a highlight and though there are only a couple of bits where the special effects really wow these particular deaths do a lot to impress. It’s a case of practical effects at their best for sure.
*Kayla’s epilepsy is a welcome touch as though we do sometimes see final girls with ailments like poor eyesight or characters in wheelchairs I don’t recall ever having noted an epilepsy sufferer in a slasher before. As well as adding a fresh feel it’s also a tension builder, Kayla often sensing a seizure coming on an inopportune moments.
Separate from the epilepsy angle but something I also felt added a certain freshness was the inclusion of the Rose character. Presumably she’s supposed to suffer from some sort of learning difficulty as she came across as very childlike. As with the epilepsy this is something very rarely seen in the slasher world. Rose reminded me a lot of the Nicholas character from Easter Bunny Kill Kill. I liked him in that and it’s very much the same with Rose as she added a lot of entertainment value for me.
Bad Points: *The one major gripe that I can articulate and put my finger on is that the film didn’t end up providing the full experience I was expecting after having watched the trailer. What I mean by that is during the trailer eight beasts are promised (as in the slashers) and eight beauties (the female victims) but these numbers aren’t delivered upon in the final product. I only counted seven females and five masked killers in the game in which Kayla was a part of. That’s seven females counting Kayla herself. There is a prologue part at the very beginning featuring another girl and a couple of killers with at least one of these killers being different from those that appeared thereafter. I don’t count them though as I assume they were involved in the tail end of the previous game with things starting afresh once Kayla and her friend are abducted. As a result it feels like a couple of the masked killers we don’t see anything of it at all whereas several more such as the bird head guy are only featured for very fleeting moments so don’t get a chance to properly establish themselves.
For me the film would have benefitted from being a quarter hour longer to provide more screen-time for these fringe characters. Like I mentioned all the masks are scary looking but it feels like several of them go to waste as they’re barely onscreen.
*The goldmine location seemed like a really cool idea to me on paper but I was let down by it in the end as it just turned out to be a much more typical woodland type backdrop more than anything else. When Kayla keeps harping on about how her friend is being held either at or close to the goldmine itself I was expecting the finale to go underground into an old mineshaft or something but it never strays from the same old tired woodlands. Even scattering in some sort of digging/tunnelling equipment or explosives used for one of the kills would have leant the goldmine more relevance/credibility but there’s nothing like that included.
Verdict: An interesting and mostly entertaining mix of something like Camp Dread or Playing With Dolls crossed with the Battle Royale concept. There’s a couple of really well done death scenes, some scary if in some cases underutilised villains and a fresh idea at play in Kayla’s epilepsy.
Despite a lot of positives it never truly catches fire or delivers as much as it promises. It’s hard to put into words exactly why but as good as it is in small does as a whole it all feels a bit flat. I’d say it’s still well worth a watch though as long as you don’t set your standards too high.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Male beast: Stabbed in the stomach/eviscerated by fellow beast.
2)Girl victim: Face cut into and sliced off with axe.
3)Girl victim #2: Injured by axe to the back. Finished off later by arms being ripped off from behind.
4)Pig mask beast: Head explodes.
5)Girl victim #3: Struck in the neck with machete by Kayla (by accident).
6)Beast with O shaped mouth mask: Double teamed by Kayla and Rose. Ultimately killed with a corkscrew type thing being driven through his back.
7)Girl victim #4: Head split in half from behind with an axe.
8)Slightly more cowardly beast (who was terrorising Rose): Head explodes.
9)Kayla’s protector beast: Hacked in the chest with axe by Kayla.
10)Kayla’s best friend (Maddie?): Throat cut by Rose.
11)Owl/bird head killer: Head explodes.
12)Game subscriber (male): Killed with knife by Kayla.
Review added on the 22nd of July 2020.