[BD Review] ‘Drinking Games’ Presents a Pretentious Thiller That Puzzles

Confession time: I’m not much of a drinker. Yeah, I know. It kind of goes against the whole thing about being a fan of horror, video gamer, writer, curmudgeon, etc., but I guess that’s me. College life sometimes involves drinking and partying, so why not throw some psychological horror into the mix? That’s what Ryan Gielen has done, adapting a stageplay called Dorm by Blake Merriman (who also stars in the film). Is it the perfect blend of indie horror and college?

It’s the last night of the fall semester, and half of Richard’s dorm has left. Determined to finish his paper before the night is out, Richard sits in his room, much to the dismay of his roommate, Shawn. Shawn’s in the mood for parting, and has brought along Noopie, a mysterious party animal who is currently passed out on their floor. After a blizzard seals them in the dorm with a handful of other students, Noopie wakes up and brings out the drugs, booze and sex. Eventually, Noopie manipulates the group to their physical and emotional breaking points over the longest, most dangerous night of their lives. Will it be their last?

In the transition from stage to screen, Drinking Games functions well, maintaining the same sense of isolation you’d get being in front of a live crowd, which in this case is a necessity. Playing more as a drama than a thriller, the story is effective in capturing the mundane college experience while weaving in a darker side that doesn’t rely on blood and gore to get one to pay attention. Rather, it’s the uncomfortable feelings that are released when partying breaks down into panic.

Given the isolated setting, it’s sort of an imperative that characters be fleshed out and interesting enough to warrant your time. Luckily, our three protagonists accomplish this nicely. Blake Merriman’s Richard and Nick Vergara’s Shawn function pretty well as the odd couple: Richard being the responsible one focused on his academics (though why he chose to finish his paper on the day the semester is practically over is odd), while Shawn is the partier and is more focused on getting it on with his girlfriend. The third man in all of this is Noopie (played by Rob Bradford), who is more than just Shawn’s enabler and sets the scumbag bar pretty high. Plus I guess it also helps that I’m not big on hipsters.

Hipsters aren’t the biggest problem facing this film. Rather, it’s the writing. Too often the conversations go around in circles and don’t accomplish much in the way of developing character motivations. In spite of Noopie being the master manipulator and terror for the rest of the characters (or is supposed to be), he comes across as pretentious, lacking in substance and overall being a shallow dick. If this was a clever jab at hipster culture, I’d be snickering with glee. Unfortunately, the pretentiousness is everywhere in the writing. Even the direction is full of it, with bizarre camera angles and shots that switch in the middle of the scene for no reason. All this combines to make the film more of an exercise in trying to figure out what exactly the filmmakers were trying to do.

Maybe it’s because I’m not one of “those” college students. Maybe it’s because I’m not a drinker. I don’t know, but I do know that Drinking Games didn’t gel with me. While the setup and initial characters were interesting, what followed was not what I’d call an effective thriller. The film felt like being stuck at a party where everyone is drinking, save for you. Had we gotten Noobie unleashing a psychotic side once the character had put everyone through the wringer instead of being a douchebag fratboy, it might’ve warranted a viewing. Instead, you’d best spend your time getting drunk and watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Video/Audio:

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is what you’d expect from a low-budget film like this. About the only thing consistent between the low-light shots is the lack of detail. It sort of suits the film, giving it’s setting and financial origins. Just don’t expect anything above average.

Likewise, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track suffers from balancing issues, but is able to handle dialogue without any distortion. Again, it’s not going above and beyond what it’s budget constraints, but at the same time isn’t completely neglected.

Supplements:

First up is a commentary by the cast and crew. Unfortunately for those expecting an informative commentary, this track ends up consisting of jokes between everyone, while information about the film itself is negligible. This wouldn’t be so bad if the other extras picked up the slack, but regrettably this isn’t the case.

Following the commentary are a series of interviews, which impart about as much information as the commentary. The first clip has Assistant Directors Ian Knoblauch and John Ferry acting as if they can’t remember the name of the film, and instead talk about, well, nothing. Next up are the production assistants, who too act the same way. The producers spend their time playing video games in their clip, and we also get a live performance of “Cocaine Save My Life” courtesy of Michael Pennacchio. The only saving grace for this piece is director Ryan Gielen, who actually talks about the film’s promotion and it’s shooting location. But at four minutes long, you would have hoped that the other interviewees would have put in as much effort.

Feel up to doing some wacky things while hammered? Drunk Sports can help you out. This extra consists of a selection of clips that show you the “awesome” things you can do while you’re drinking. Unfortunately, good games weren’t included. Some of the segments are mislabeled, however, giving you the idea of how much effort was put into this.

A Still Gallery rounds up the extras.

 

Official Score