The first image one’s mind typically jumps to when they hear “board game movie” is probably 1995’s Jumanji. For years, this standard concept of playing a game with real-world consequences has been swooped up by the horror community in such films as Open Graves and Uncanny Annie. 2022’s Gatlopp presents brand-new board game hijinks with a modern twist and a dash of the dramatic. Looking visually similar to both Parcheesi and Sorry!, Gatlopp promises a “wacky and unpredictable” full-3D action game, complete with shot glasses to boot. What could go wrong with a simple board game that resembles yesteryear’s innumerable classic titles? This bold and ultimately very fun film is a blast of elevated silliness and manic entertainment.
Nearly a decade has passed since the last time a group of four friends have gotten together. Their dynamic is as follows: fresh from a devastating breakup, Paul (Jim Mahoney) is looking for a place to stay while waiting for the money to clear from selling his home in L.A. with ex Alice (Shelley Hennig); Cliff (Jon Bass) just wants to party and keep everyone in good spirits, so he plans a fresh get-together with the old crew; Sam (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is too engrossed in her work as a television executive to bother making time for friends and family in her life; and Troy (Sarunas J. Jackson), a working actor, dreams of opening a banging nightclub. The whole gang gets together at Cliff’s house; having picked up a fresh futon and credenza just for the occasion, Cliff pulls out a mysterious board game.
No one seems interested in Gatlopp until Paul receives a call from Alice informing him that the buyers on their house have formally pulled the offer. She gives Paul incentive to meet up with her tomorrow morning to sign the divorce papers and finally be finished with the whole affair. In an effort to raise Paul’s spirits, a dumb drinking game may be just what the doctor ordered. Cliff rushes them into the game as they conveniently skip over the proper reading of the instructions. This turns out to be a grave mistake. The friends soon realize that one player must win by sunrise—otherwise, they will be stuck playing for all eternity!
The stakes are their very lives, and the line of questioning and cards they must draw prey directly on their fears, insecurities, and decades of history together. Nothing is off bounds, as Gatlopp demands honest answers lest one face truly horrifying consequences. The flavor of horror here is dark comedy with a tinge of the macabre, which turns out to be the perfect mixture. Gatlopp zings from round to round, always presenting some new and shocking equation to throw at the audience. My favorite moments are plentiful, and picking just one is tough. However, the Jazzercise routine segment virtually steals the show. Our characters are forced to participate in an intricate routine—fail three times, and face the punishment.
Above all else, Gatlopp is a great comedy that builds up a lovable cast of characters to root for. Game Night surely shares a couple similarities thematically, yet Gatlopp is ultimately an original and zippy watch. If the ending is any indication, sequelizing this title would be nearly effortless. Briskly paced with the ample randomness and gotcha surprises from a real-life board game, Gatlopp may be the finest thesis yet that tabletop gaming is a long ways from dead.
Gatlopp screened at 2022’s Calgary Underground Film Festival.
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