Stars: Francisco Barreiro, Daniela Soto Vell, Jorge Molina, Milena Pezzi, Vita Vargas, Evan Alducin, Pau Alva, Tito Guillén, Pablo Guisa Koestinger | Written and Directed by Adrián García Bogliano
Evil Games, when squinted at from afar, might resemble one of the Coen Brothers’ crime-driven dark comedies. The story – about a kidnapping gone right which goes terribly wrong only after the victim has safely returned home – is at least unconventional enough for the standards of Joel and Ethan. However, the premise is all the film’s got going for it, and not long into proceedings I was praying for a more capable filmmaker (or filmmakers) to wrest it from writer/director Adrián García Bogliano’s hands.
The plot is preceded by a drone-filmed shot of a Mexican highway, fenced off on either side by trees and fields. The not-quite-bird’s-eye-view moves menacingly across the landscape and swoops in toward the cars on the road accompanied by operatic classical music. This appears to be Bogliano’s best impression of Kubrick and seems intended to prepare us for the claustrophobia and menace that’s to come, but it falls completely flat due to the drone’s jerky changes in direction and made me wish the production could have afforded a helicopter for the day.
The movie’s low budget is evident throughout; our main character, a bored (and borderline psychotic) office drone, is filmed going about his dreary day in cheap digital photography that’s coloured to resemble the most over-stylised Instagram filter possible. The result feels like a pale imitation of David Fincher and even when events take a turn for the exciting Evil Games can’t escape its severe technical limitations.
Before the lead kidnaps his boss’ daughter, he times her route home from school and methodically prepares his assault, practicing chokeholds on his elderly father and making lists of necessary provisions. It’s the only part of the film that holds any real interest, as there’s something compelling about watching a character prepare for a complex criminal act (see also: The Day of the Jackal, Thief, every decent heist movie), but once the plot’s in motion things screech to a painfully slow burn for the next hour.
I went to the bathroom twice during Evil Games; that’s how much my body took against the film. From the kidnapping onwards, the story is a jumbled mess of ersatz noir plots, each less engaging than the last and presided over by a protagonist who is neither interesting nor empathetic in any way. He appears to care only about himself and his young son but not his wife or the two women he’s cheating on her with – one of whom is a prostitute, natch – and is in (a somewhat more metaphorical) bed with local gangsters. These kinds of characters can be compelling if given the right motivation or characterisation – hell, Martin Scorsese has dedicated decades to the exploration of them to great success – but Bogliano and his leading man Francisco Barreiro seem to think it’s enough that the hero would like some money and is willing to perform terrible acts in order to get it.
Needless to say, things don’t end up going well for anyone involved, least of all the audience. Despite all the violence and attempted tension-building of the second half, there’s little excitement to be had due to the jarring cinematography and overacted performances, not to mention the plodding, unimaginative script. For a film shown at a genre festival, it’s rather unconvincing as a thriller, let alone the psychological shocker the makers are presumably trying to sell it as. Evil Games tries at aloof, ironic amorality but only succeeds at empty, mean-spirited blandness.
Evil Games is released on DVD and VOD on November 7th, courtesy of Matchbox Films.