This is one of those movies where the premise sounds really great – a rich family plays a game to welcome new members of that family, but when that game is Hide and Seek, things turn deadly – but where the execution is just not up to snuff. There are moments that are pretty great, but they are few and far between.
The first problem is just how unbelievable this all is. Well, that’s not the first problem, necessarily, but it’s the first clear problem. (I would prefer if we didn’t get that opening scene that sets up Daniel’s redemption if only because the shock of the family quirk would be felt more clearly. But this is a nitpick.) It’s not clear to the audience why Alex wouldn’t just elope. They explain that everyone who has ever tried to avoid Playing has died but this isn’t reinforced enough. (It’s possible that I didn’t hear enough because i was on a plane. In a pandemic?!?! Yes, indeed. It was weird. But, anyway, it felt like it was not emphasized enough that everyone who has ever refused to participate has died.)
The second problem is how inconsistently funny it it. There is one laugh-out-loud running gag, but just one. (It’s really good, though.) And you would think a premise ripe for satire would, you know, have more of it. Or, at least, more actual gags about how crazy the rich are. Instead they just say it. Over and over again. Show, don’t tell, right? This film would be better if it was more obvious but funnier. Or it would be better if it was more cutting with a little (okay, a lot) more subtlety. Instead, the filmmakers try to make up with it with some actual gore. That’s fine for fans of gore, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of laughs for the rest of us.
My third major issue involves a pretty fucking massive SPOILER so, if you care about the ending being SPOILED, please don’t read any more.
This film is ostensibly about how crazy the rich are, right? This crazy family that believes this crazy story about how they got their money. But, just when the film is telling you that is the case, they completely undercut whatever satiric point they are trying to make about privilege and money by making the curse real! They don’t explain how it’s real, or why it’s real (and, admittedly, that’s okay) but just that they were actually right to attempt to murder Grace. To me, this is a big, big problem for what was supposedly the film’s message: “the rich really are different.” By making the curse a real thing, their behaviour is justified at least a little, right? So they go from being villains to being one side of a struggle for survival, which works a lot less well in a horror film.
The problem is that none of the living family members made the deal with the devil, so they are not as complicit as their ancestor, and so not as purely evil, right? A film that was more subtle might be able to work more from that nuance but this isn’t that film.
Still, I laughed out loud a bunch of times. The houses the film was shot in are great. (One was Casa Loma! They did a good job of hiding that OR I haven’t been there in a long time.) The mood is pretty great and the gore is there if you’re into that sort of thing. So, even though it’s really flawed, I can’t say I didn’t at least enjoy myself a little bit. (Also, the cast is great.)