Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Battle Royale

With the new Hunger Games movie here, which I know little of, marketers decided it was time to release the other movie with the practically-identical killer concept: Battle Royale. And I can’t vouch for the Hunger Games, but Battle Royale doesn’t PG-13 their movie. Instead they dive into the content headfirst, providing quite the brutal experience; an experience… not to be missed.

  The premise is ludicrous; no modern civilized government would sanction a law that strands a bunch of teenagers on a deserted, military patrolled island, forcing them to brutally MURDER each other in mortal combat until only ONE survives. They could’ve padded this out by maybe showing us some mock news footage of how bad society has gotten and that this was their only solution to keeping the youth in line. But no, just a short debrief loaded with statistics in the beginning and then right to it. But since you most likely already know what the movie is about, you’re totally willing to overlook that massive implausibility and just get right to the game.

  We know very little about this group of teens at the outset beyond the fact they’re your typical group of cliquish school going brats. There are the quiet ones, the loud ones, the jocks, the sluts, the brainiacs, and the fat kid. A lot of these archetypal characters get a lot of exposition and expand into fully fleshed out characters. Others… are trapped by their own cliché. (I.e. Fat kid, Brainiac) This is sad, but also kind of unavoidable. You have around 44 kids in there, most of who are going to die within the first hour. You just know it. That’s not even a spoiler folks. This movie is a bloodbath. And it’s just unavoidable that some of these kids are simply going to just be cannon fodder

  Fortunately, the movie carves out clear-cut protagonists and antagonists. The real key players (with the glaring exception of one) all have rich back-story and well fleshed out motivation. They’re fully developed characters which are a joy to watch. The outstanding young actors bring a next level sense of believability to their roles and it makes the proceedings that much more visceral and frightening. Some of the kids who end up being antagonists are downright scary and unnerving to watch. There are plenty of amazing performances to be seen here. It’s a very scary concept, a very brutal and unflinching movie and it ends up being very cohesive, and dare I even say relentlessly entertaining? Its breakneck pacing and near-gratuitous bloody violence could land this movie in some unfair categories and stick it with undue stigma. But it’s a very thought provoking movie with a lot of emotional backbone.

  It’s rare to find a movie that tries so hard to have a practically laughable concept (albeit scary) portrayed as dead serious, and succeeds. Well this movie succeeds. And it succeeds by focusing more and more on the characters and their struggle as the runtime ticks by, and less on the strange and unnerving social parable which it’s selling. In order to stick more to a social commentary, it would’ve had to lose its favoritism of characters, strip everyone down to un-relatable archetypes and not give us the satisfying ending that it did. That movie wouldn’t work. We’d be dragged through the trenches of a brutal bloodbath, with no emotional anchor, and the already implausible premise being uselessly reinforced and insisted upon, the movie would be an unbearable chore to sit through.

  Thankfully it’s not though. It may lose some of its higher messages by diverting to a slightly more Hollywood-esque third act, but it doesn’t lose our attention. And it already has us invested emotionally. I can’t imagine many people saying that the ending was unfair to the story itself. In fact I feared it would be something horribly nihilistic and grim. Which would make sense given the sheer dread and hopelessness present throughout the movie, but thankfully they rewarded our investment and gave us the ending we wanted. Maybe it undercuts a lot of what the movie was saying, but you’re able to sigh a breath of relief and satisfaction because by the end of the movie you’re way more concerned about the characters than you thought you would be. At least I was. As the movie’s focus shifts from horrific social parable to a character driven fight for survival, your expectations do too. And you don’t even notice. This is a very skillful switch off that could’ve ruined the movie. Instead, it saved it. I love this movie. And I absolutely recommend it.

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