When Fun and Games Go Wrong: A Review of “All Fun and Games”
When you name your movie All Fun and Games, you should probably ensure it’s appropriately fun and full of games. That’s unfortunately a step that directors Eren Celeboglu and Ari Costa took in their attempt to turn playground entertainment like hide and seek or flashlight tag into deadly horror scenarios. Celeboglu, Costa, and co-writer J.J. Braider take an intriguing idea on paper and underbake it like a chef who makes pizza in a stone-cold oven. I’m usually all for a short and sweet running time of around 75 minutes, but All Fun and Games is a rare example of surface-value storytelling that barely gets off the ground before the credits declare “game over.”
The slaughter is set against Salem, Massachusetts’ historically haunting backdrop. A cursed, bone-sculpted knife with “I Will Play, I Won’t Quit” scratched into the blade chooses victims to possess, who in turn force innocents to participate in twisted takes on games played by kiddies in the time before Fortnite or Neopets. What should be an easy-breezy night of babysitting turns into a fight against a vengeful spirit from the town’s morbid past, which all becomes painfully familiar as characters practically beg to be possessed in a film that’s merely horror child’s play.
My biggest frustration revolves around the lack of enthusiasm for exploiting the three main games used: hangman, hide and seek, and flashlight tag. The horror genre allows filmmakers to stretch the bounds of their creativity, and yet All Fun and Games feels so achingly pedestrian in the way it dryly approaches how the games mentioned above involve killing and violence. Hide and seek is just a slasher villain slowly chasing victims, while hangman couldn’t be more of an afterthought that gets two letters into a round. Flashlight tag is the only game revamped with horrific tweaks that raise anxiety and dread, but even that’s squandered by lackluster digital fire effects that light participants ablaze when they’re “tagged.” Celeboglu and Costa oversell their premise while delivering the basest iteration, failing to meet intrigue with payoffs in a way that earns celebration-worthy victories.
The little details of All Fun and Games feel too unexplained and thinly written.
The little details of All Fun and Games feel too unexplained and thinly written. The script’s answer to story-based horror challenges like “Why not call for help?” typically causes more questions than answers, like why any mother would confiscate the cell phones of her babysitting teens before leaving for the night. No one hesitates to read the inscription on the bone dagger, or pay much mind to the possessed child sweating profusely. Storytelling is flimsy and rushed, making characters feel like they’re marching forward to their demise without any awareness. Horror movies might rely on common cliches to establish why things go wrong, but without sufficient inquisition from those caught in the chaos, the experience feels cheap and forced.
Let’s use the word “cheap” again when assessing scare factors. All Fun and Games relies on kills that shy away from camera lenses, and on jump scares without much thought put into the formula. The stabby bone’s backstory ties into old-timey Salem and one of the countless atrocities committed there, which summons ghost children with bleeding wounds to pop in front of the camera over and over. Celeboglu and Costa aren’t proficient at drawing out suspense that builds into a frightful release, instead boiling horror cinema down to quick camera cuts that thrust us into the face of a cackling hag or undead pipsqueak without warning. All Fun and Games never heard the phrase “speed kills,” because too often it relies on hasty forward motion that doesn’t stop to let themes, thrills, or chills make their impact.
You can’t blame the young cast for any of this. Natalia Dyer does fine enough as both the enamored girlfriend and worried older sister. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth gets by as the catalyst for his family’s possible demise, although I’m glad possession performance tasks shift elsewhere after a while (his depiction gets a bit rocky). Asa Butterfield exudes the personality of an off-putting loner, but his turn as a sneering demonic vessel is overshadowed by a bellowing voice modification that is more of a distraction than added benefit. The atmosphere can strike the right tone when playing into the gallows nature of someone slinging a noose over a backyard tree branch with a smile; there’s just nothing more profound for characters to mine when the scene is over before we can even digest that nastiness of watching a live-action game of hangman.