Immigration Game, 2017
Directed by Krystof Zlatnik
Starring Mathis Landwehr, Denise Ankel, Katharina Sporrer, Simson Bubbel, Eskindir Tesfay
In near future Germany, the only way for an immigrant to obtain full citizenship is to participate in a bloody, Purge-style TV show through the streets of Berlin, and a young German national soon finds himself thrust into the centre of the game after committing an unforgivable crime.
It’s no secret that free-for-all Battle Royale-style horror movies are all the rage at the moment. From Kinji Fukasaku’s cult original, through its sequel, three Purge movies (plus its upcoming TV adaptation) and even the young-adult-aimed answer/blockbuster waste of time The Hunger Games, the base formula for Krystof Zlatnik’s low-rent thriller is nothing even remotely new. And whilst he does dress it up somewhat with some eye-gougingly current political subtext, the reality is, we’ve seen it all before, and done a whole lot better than this.
Immigration Game has a lot going for it: a confident, likeable lead, a relatively clever (if a little on-the-nose) update of a tried-and-tested formula. Zlatnik finds some neat ways of stretching every penny with a few unconventional filming methods, that leak all the way back into the very plotting itself (reality TV finally, at long last, has its uses). The major problem here is just that it really can’t compete in scale, very obviously replicating elements of those that came before it, but with a much cheaper and less impressive approach.
Zlatnik certainly has a penchant for violence, and the fight sequences, although largely uninspired in their choreography, come off as gritty and brutal enough, building well and ending with a real and genuinely fierce gut-punch of a finale. But rather frustratingly, it’s only when the leads are throwing punches and dodging pipe wrenches that they’re actually even the tiniest bit convincing; a problem not necessarily with the acting talent, but instead with Zlatnik’s own writing. Landwehr’s lead Joe is easy enough to get on with, but his supporting cast don’t seem to have nearly enough to do, reduced to pattering about, repeating the same lines and motivations over and over until the very end of the final act.
Which, when it comes, really hits like a freight train. Immigration Game certainly has its sweet moments, and definitely has the capacity to be both triumphant and hopeful in equal measure. It’s based around a very real problem, not just in Germany, but the world over too, and early on, there’s just enough teased to make the politics work without the film becoming too preachy. But as the action-heavy plot kicks into gear, so much of this is lost that, by the frankly twisted ending, it’s not about immigration anymore at all.
The way in which Zlatnik eventually ties everything together isn’t exactly flawed on a narrative level, it’s just exceedingly pessimistic for a film that started out on such a different note. He doesn’t quite deliver what you’d expect given both the title and the overall set-up, tossing a lot of the bigger ideas around throughout and dropping all but the least convincing one at the final hurdle.
Fans of the more extreme and darker side of horror will likely find a lot to get excited about here, even if its only really got one foot in the genre to begin with. Immigration Game doesn’t quite go in the direction you’d expect, and while that can be in many ways commended, it’s also incredibly jarring to sit through, and ultimately very divisive in the long run. It’s certainly a lot more than just a cheap Euro-themed take on The Purge; there is some real personality here and there. But between an unwarranted, nasty ending, and its director’s apparent inability to settle on a consistent theme, it doesn’t stand out quite as much as it could.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★
Ben Robins / @BMLRobins
SCI-FI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 runs from 27 April – 6 May.