TLA Releasing // 2010 // 119 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // December 14th, 2012
Ready or not...It's time to play.
Hideaki (Hirofumi Araki) wakes up to find himself in a recreation of his old classroom, along with three of his old classmates. Before the group has time to make sense of their surroundings, a pair of masked figures enter the room and plays them a video explaining their situation. Each of them is there as punishment for something they have done in the past, and to have any chance of survival, they must compete in X-Game, in which they must each draw a card that describes a violent act they must endure at the hands of their fellow abductees; failure to comply with the rules will result in an even worse punishment. In between the bouts of torture, the teens attempt to identify the mysterious figure behind their captivity, leading them to confront an event from their childhood they had all but forgotten.
When even a seasoned gorehound like myself finds themselves disinterested in what X-Game has to offer, then you know the clock must finally be running down on the torture porn subgenre. Anyone attempting to defend director Yohei Fukuda (who also directed the notorious gore-fest Grotesque) might point to an opening hour that is light on violence and far more character-focused as proof that this in not just an exercise in violence, and therefore a more mature work. Although it is true that X-Game takes its time, the first hour is a chore to sit through, and it's only too obvious that Fukuda is itching to start the bloodletting.
Anyone approaching X-Game hoping for an undemanding 90-minute splatter-fest will be left sorely disappointed, as the film lacks humor (bar an excellent Ringu-related joke early on), and inexplicably manages to stretch the paper-thin story out for a soul-destroying two hours. The first hour of the film hardly warrants a mention, beyond addressing the way it overcomplicates matters with frequent flashbacks to fill us in on the main protagonists. Indeed, Fukuda is overly reliant on using flashbacks as a means of revealing information crucial to the plot throughout the film, which in turn leads to a fragmented narrative.
Once the action moves to the deadly X-Game itself, we are left with a decidedly low-rent version of Saw, as a group of teens is forced to commit horrific acts against each other by an unseen, morally twisted psychopath seeking revenge for some unknown crime. If X-Game was ever going to win my attention, then this was surely its chance. Alas, the gore is underwhelming; not so much in regard to the quality of the effects, but rather due to the unimaginative execution. Admittedly someone having their buttocks perforated by a seat made of nails will induce a few winces (not to mention the odd laugh), but when that proves to be the highlight of the film, you can safely surmise that X-Game is a creative graveyard.
The mystery that sits at the heart of the film admittedly offers some intrigue, and the final act tries to tie up the loose ends and move toward a more focused narrative. Unfortunately, as the truth regarding the identity of the antagonist is slowly revealed, the feeling that your time has been wasted sinks in, proving impossible to shake as an overly long finale hammers the final nails into the film's coffin.
The barebones DVD has a clean transfer, with good black levels. Colors are generally strong, though certain scenes see them muted somewhat. The stereo Japanese soundtrack delivers clear dialogue, which is complemented by English subtitles.
I may not be a fan of Grotesque, but at least that film saw Fukuda attempting to provoke a reaction from his audience, even if it was only revulsion. X-Game, on the other hand, sees the director seemingly going through the motions, and turning in his most uninspired work yet. Avoid.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated