Wednesday, October 18, 2017

13 Demons (2016)

Many years ago, back when Dungeons & Dragons first started, people didn’t seem to understand it.  Younger people seemed to like playing it and older people seemed to read something sinister into the game.  There were implications that it was satanic or caused suicide.  At some point, there was a rumor that people that played it had detached themselves from reality, either before or after starting the game.  Like autism and vaccines, there was no causal link.  Dungeons & Dragons had not loosened anyone’s grip on reality as far as anyone could prove.

13 Demons takes its plot from that basic premise.  What if there were a game that could somehow cause people to think that they were living the campaign?  Three friends start playing a game called 13 Daemons.  The basic rules are what you’d expect of such a game.  Each player moves a token around a board per several arbitrary rules.  (You’re not allowed into red areas unless you roll a certain number.)  The game has a strange smell, further compelling the friends to do something else.  They do eventually get into the game, only to go further down the rabbit hole.

We know that they go all the way because the movie starts in a police station with two of the friends being interrogated.  I’ve always hated that plot device because it either means that the movie is giving away the ending or its setting us up for some strange twist of events that let the characters get out of their mess.

In this case, knowing the history of role-playing games, I don’t expect the main characters to be that smart.  They’re all stoners that don’t seem to have much else to do.  In their first session, they play the game straight through until morning, possibly longer.  Over several weeks, they really get into the game.  They do eventually have their psychotic break in the form of a strange laser show.  A news report implies that they may have killed someone, an assumption backed up by the police interrogation.

Most of the movie takes place in the one room.  We don’t even know if it’s the parents’ basement or if one of them somehow managed to hold a job long enough to get their own place.  This leads me to another problem I had with the movie:  We don’t really develop a bond with any of the characters.  They’re all losers and we basically go into the movie expecting them to kill someone.  Granted, marathon sessions aren’t unheard of, but you’d think one of them would mention needing to get to work or to procure some food.

There’s no reason for us to develop any empathy for the characters.  The whole thing is like some cautionary tale your mother might tell you when you first show an interest in such games.  Is the writer trying to show how silly the whole thing is?  Is this what parents believe will happen to their children if they get into the dark, evil world of D&D?  Or is it written by someone who thought they could make a decent movie out of it?  It’s implied that the cause of the mental break was mold or some other actual agent.  However, the three friends are no less delusional and the game was no less banned several decades ago.

You don’t see many of the murderous acts, but this is not a movie for children.  It’s evident what’s going on, at least to an adult.  At the very least, a small child would probably be confused by the movie, especially if they have no concept what an RPG is.

The funny thing is that this kind of movie is what I had hoped to specialize in here.  It’s the kind of movie that’s bad, but not so bad that I can’t sit through the whole thing.  Keep in mind, though, that I’ve managed to make my way through a lot of bad movies.  I watched Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe.  I watched Future War and Star Crystal.  I even sat through Winterbeast.  This isn’t quite like any of those, but it’s still bad.  I’m actually debating over whether or not I should put this on a ten-worst list.  If I have a need for a specialized list, like Ten Movies in  Need of a Massive Rewrite, this would make the list.

That’s seriously all it needs.  The effects and the acting are at least passable.  I can forgive a low budget.  (IMDb reports that this one had a budget of $1,000,000.)  However, this looks like the theatrical version of a homework assignment rushed at the last minute.  This movie is a short 1:20.  A little more meat and we might have had something.

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