Friday, April 10, 2009
Surviving The Game Review
I've been saying, since the inception of this site, that horror is not always blood shed and supernatural forces. True horror is sometimes found in the subtle, shortness of breath that comes from being in a situation that is life and death. However, that doesn't mean that all thrillers and mystery films are meant to be in the horror genre, but some get to a free pass on the site because there are moments of sheer horror that can not be denied. That was the case with this cult film, that has been floating around my brain since I first saw it at age 11 in 1994. I recently got this film again just to see Gary Busey's method acting in the midst of lesser known and now famous actors. Some have tried to make movies like this in the past, but many have failed to capture the sheer brutality of this film, and at the same time there are obvious flaws that can't be fast forwarded in this film, so it definitely isn't an instant winner. However, Ice-T, Rutger Hauer, Gary Busey and the dude from Scrubs make this 7 million dollar film into a piece of exploitation goodness, even if it was made in the mid 90's. So strap in your seat belts, get your helmets on, and get ready for the review of Surviving the Game.
The movie is a loose, and I do mean loose translation of the short story The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell. The movie right off the bat is interesting due in large part to the realism shown in the homeless world. We follow a man named Jack Mason who has lost everything. Now homeless he has to steal to live and when a meat robbery goes bad he loses his friend and his dog. Completely low, he decides to end his life, but along the way he meets with a man who offers him an interesting prospect of a second life.
The second life will allow him to get paid to survive. However, no major details are given outside of being a "hunter". Little does he know what the hunt will be. Fast forward to a cabin in the woods and we see our man Mason amidst a bunch of other hunters, all who are "feeling" him out, and one nearly starts a fight with him. This set up is fast, and while the running time is a little more than you probably expect from such a film, it still manages to go swiftly through the process, creating a good amount of story, including a special speech from Gary Busey. The speech that Busey gives is one of the major highlights of this film, and I stand by my thoughts on Busey, being under appreciated in the realms of exploitation film. Not that he did a lot of them, but I think he could pull off a few good movies, with Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Come on! Give Busey a second or third chance, he's psycho, he could pull it off well.
The movie then turns on a dime, Mason learns he is the hunted and he has a head start. He runs fast through thick woods in the Pacific Northwest while the hunters eat breakfast and let him get his head start. The hunters then go out on motor vehicles and hunt Mason! That's where things get bad, this film really pushes the limits of horror when Mason, a homeless man, must now fight to live, and if he makes it to civilization great...if not, he's dead.
One thing I forgot to mention is that in the start of the film, there was a point where you saw a Homeless man running in the woods getting killed by this group of hunters. That earlier shot comes to play here as Mason runs through the woods and tries to keep low profile.
How far would you go to live? That's the question you have to ask yourself as you watch Mason panic through the woods.
Another highlight in this film is when Mason runs back to the cabin, while the hunters are in the midst of the woods, and he tries to get some weapons to fight back. He stumbles upon a closet with several cases, all containing floating heads with names on them! This is when the horror feeling hits you like a brick to the temple, this is insane. You see severed heads, Mason falls to his feet, and he is completely scared when he sees an empty jar with the name "MASON" written on it. This is the last straw and he goes and finds some Gasoline and lights the cabin on fire!
Meanwhile, this is where things get really good, Gary Busey's characters finds Mason and the two have a drag out and tumble fight sequence. The two, I swear, don't seem to have stunt doubles and this fight nearly rivals "They Live" with intensity as Busey gets thrown through a door and is blown to bits as the cabin blows up due to the gasoline! This was rad, and while the movie isn't really an action film, this detail and fight made me cheer for Mason!
The music is terrible in this film. The music consists of terrible synth, and acoustic sounds alongside the traditional movie score that Symphonies probably get paid to play for. The musical ques are completely off, and really make you want to think twice about this film. You also get some terrible acting in various places by some of the hunters. The film quality is also odd here, for a 1994 film you would think that the director of photography would have chosen better shots to compile the film, instead you get really awkward edits and cuts and you have to really wonder if the people behind this film were really proud of the end product. Maybe they were going for that grindhouse, gritty, film quality, but it seems very under produced in this film, and that's pretty crappy considering how good the story is, despite the inherent flaws.
Charles S. Dutton does a wonderful job in this film. He plays the recruiter, then he plays the coach, and then he is the hunter! He really brings a lot to the role and brings a lot to the film. Rutger Hauer is genuinely creepy in this film and really made me second guess what the outcome of the film was going to be.
Is Surving The Game Scary?: Yes. This movie has some seriously scary moments. You have to really put yourself into the situation at hand to appreciate the horror in this film. This is 1994, so there's no global positioning satellite that is going to help you. There are no major cell phones that you can take to the forest of Washington State. Secondly, you are dealing with a man that has nothing to lose. Lastly, you have to consider the question that I asked earlier, how far will you go to survive?
We'll discuss the first. There are no GPS devices that can assist you here. They haven't been invented for personal use yet. Yes, there are military grade GPS systems in 1994, however the hunted is not going to think to bring such a device, considering that he is a homeless person and considering that he feels that he's getting a job here. He also doesn't really consider that notion when he's burning down the cabin and fighting Gary Busey on the porch.
Secondly, cell phones, they aren't here. My stepfather had a brick of a cellphone in the mid 90's but that thing would drop phone calls, and was terrible. It was a terrible piece of crap Motorola phone that rivaled Zack Morris' brick of a phone from Saved by the Bell. Even if Mason had a cell phone, the movie really makes you believe that these people are in the middle of nowhere and there aren't going to be any carriers that have signals out there. It just isn't the case in 1994. A scary thought.
Thirdly and really importantly, you have to consider Mason's plight here. He has lost his wife and child, he has lost his best friend and now has nothing. He's living on the streets and he has nothing left. He's a dejected man with nothing to lose and admits to suicidal notions in the beginning of this film. Had Charles S. Dutton's character not seen Mason walking by the mission, we are lead to believe that Mason would have killed himself out of hopelessness. With that in mind, you have to consider that this man has nothing left to lose, so he's going to go balls to wall in order to stay alive. He's going to even kill you, and that's when things start to lift into the horror realms and point themselves towards a more serious flim.
The horror element is injected with the simple question of "How far would you go to stay alive?". That's when you need to think about yourself. Put yourself in this situation, if you were tricked into taking a new job and they were hunting you, would you kill? If not, would you hide? Would you roll over and die? Think about this, and then enjoy this popcorn thriller of a film.
The end of the film really breaks down and turns into a revenge film, but not without a few twists. However, this film drops you off in Seattle, Wa with nothing more. It's interesting to note that there is a sense of ownership that you feel about this film at the credits because it doesn't really answer your final question. What happens next? You won't get that answered at all, and I haven't felt upset about an ending since I read the book "Vision Quest" in high school. Surviving The Game is available on dvd and it's really cool. It's an interesting action, thriller and in my view horror. There is a horror element to this movie that you can't deny, even if that wasn't the intention of the directors and writers...or was it? You decide.
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