Why have there been so few movies about cursed or haunted board games? I’m sure that we can all think of the one big one, the one that a lot of folks with compare this film to, but are there any other films that tackle this topic other than Jumanji? With the popularity of board games, whether it’s a family sitting around for a casual game of Monopoly that never gets finished because folks get bored or end up in arguments, or more in-depth games that can go on for multiple sessions, it’s a medium that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. So why doesn’t it come up fiction more?
Well, perhaps it’s because it seems to be pretty hard to make a board game dynamic and exciting to those simply observing. I think this is one of the reasons that Gatlopp: Hell of a Game, the latest entry in this minuscule sub-genre of films, focuses less on the game, and more on the people playing it. Whilst this is nominally a film about four friends getting stuck playing a magical game that looks set to kill them, it’s actually about a group of friends reconnecting, figuring out their relationships, and moving on from past traumas.
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Gatlopp: Hell of a Game begins with four friends, Paul (Jim Mahoney), Sam (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Cliff (Jon Bass), and Troy (Sarunas J. Jackson) going about their lives around LA. We get little snapshots of who they are in these moments, learning that Sam is a workaholic who can’t let go, Troy loves his status as a low level celebrity and cashes in on it wherever he can, Cliff is a bit of a man-child who’s just getting by, and Paul has just gone through a divorce from his wife and has had to sell his home.
It’s Paul’s divorce that spurs on the events of the film, as he moves in with Cliff for a few weeks whilst his house sale is finalised. Whilst Paul was hoping for a quiet time, Cliff has other ideas, and invites Troy and Sam round for drinks and a fun time. A key component of the night Cliff has planned is a strange board game called Gatlopp, which he found in one of the drawers of a new piece of furniture he bought. Eventually the others agree to play, and the four of them settle down for a night of fun. However, when it appears that the game is able to warp reality, the four of them discover that they need to beat the game by sunrise, or become trapped playing it forever.
Whilst Gatlopp is marketed as a horror film it’s definitely more on the lighthearted side of the genre, and I think most viewers will find themselves laughing aloud more than they’ll be cringing or hiding behind the pillow. There are definitely some horror themes going on here, such as the punishment of being cursed to a hell of playing this game forever, but if you’re looking for gore, scares, and high tension this might not be the film for you. However, if you’re looking for some good fun Gatlopp: Hell of a Game just might scratch your itch.
A big part of the charm is the man four cast members, who really do feel like a good group of friends at times. We’ve all seen films where a friend group just never feels right, where the chemistry is off and feels forced. Gatlopp: Hell of a Game manages to sidestep this issue for the most part. Towards the start of the film the friends haven’t really been decent friends for a while, and are reconnecting and finding their feet around each other; and this helps with any awkwardness there might be.
But as the film goes on the actors seem to settle into their roles more, and you can really see the bonds between these people. They argue and snap at each other, but do genuinely seem to care. The cast do a great job throughout, and are put through a gamut of emotions to have to play, and do so wonderfully. There are moments where you’ll dislike these characters, and times where you feel genuinely bad for them. One scene in particular was actually heartbreaking, and Emmy Raver-Lampman has possibly the best scene in the film.
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The film does a good job with what seems like a relatively small budget too, keeping the vast majority of it in one closed off location, with a handful of scenes taking place outside of a single room. It feels like a bottle-episode from a TV show, but in the best possible way. The story of these people and their issues becomes so much of the focus that you don’t really notice or care that they’ve not left this one room. I can’t think of many films that have managed to keep me entertained in one location in the same way that Gatlopp has done, and was honestly pleasantly surprised that it did so.
Gatlopp: Hell of a Game is a weird and wonderful movie, one that isn’t really taking itself too seriously and is focusing on having fun. However, it manages to sneak in a rather sweet and engaging story of these four people, their lives, and the healing they go through whilst being tortured by this haunted board game. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the film as much as I did, and think it’s one that quite a few people are going to like.