Per Matt
Gamers have gotten a bad rap throughout the years via feature films (and through a variety of TV shows). It takes all kinds of people to make up any sort of generic category, and I contend that you’ll always have the good mixed in with the bad… with the bad receiving the majority of the publicity. This week, My Guilty Pleasure brings us Play or Die! Beware. Puzzle games have never been so deadly.

Not quite Skate or Die (although that is definitely one of my all-time-frustratingly favorite video games that could always be found in ’80s arcades) and not quite Escape Room (the movie or the real-life themed attractions), this Belgian horror film, which was released in 2019 (and based on the Franck Thilliez novel, Puzzle), focuses on a group of “hardcore gamers,” as they’re called, and the exclusive game they’ve uncovered for a grand prize of $1 million euros… should they survive.

“What’s the point of living if you can’t trust what you see?”

Coded messages clue the gamers into a creepy mansion for an escape room game where everyone’s a suspect… and everyone’s a victim, as these broken characters seemingly seek revenge on innocent gamers for past misdeeds. The two-person teams are separated, as each person is tasked with solving riddles or die trying. A few jump scares are scattered about the storyline, which verges into the realm of torture porn at times. Religious elements eventually work themselves in, as this one deals with psychological terror and the monsters that they create.

I really despise the overall depiction of ALL gamers throughout feature films and many television series. Sure, there’s problem solving and hand-eye coordination involved, and they can be an obsessive and introverted lot — but not all of them. Generalizing an entire group of people is always a dangerous proposition and Hollywood has been just as guilty as the major TV media networks (that could be one reason why the big-screen adaptations of so many classic video games have been colossal flops, for the most part).

So many times in the past, first-time filmmakers are trusted with low- to mid-sized budgets and shaky storylines (usually of bad quality) that assume if you make an adaptation of a best-selling game, all ages of fans will plunk down their hard-earned money, unequivocally enjoying every minute of the experience. Usually, that never happens, and the production studios still don’t understand why.

But when the filmmakers involved with each video-game project actually “get it,” you’ll get more successful films like Sonic the Hedgehog, and fewer examples of Super Mario Bros.

If it wasn’t for a free preview of Showtime Beyond, my evidence for making that statement wouldn’t be as strong. Thank goodness for Showtime Beyond. Too bad I’m not a fan of this flick. But for some reason, I will go against the grain in thinking there’s still hope for yet another good big-screen adventure that just happens to have a video game as its source material. It can happen and it will, again. At some point.