This week’s latest offering on Shudder feels like it may have missed the boat by a few years. For the uninitiated, LARPing, or Live Action Role-Playing, is something like playing Dungeons & Dragons. Except you’re outside and actually playing in costume. Maybe you remember that Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott comedy, Role Models? From 2008. But horror has successfully mined escape rooms and haunted attractions for decent scares. And The Bunker Game boasts a promising premise.
Deep inside an old WWII bunker, a group of LARPers act out an elaborate story of German soldiers surviving a nuclear holocaust. But mysterious electrical problems cut the game short. Now only the game’s hosts are left below the surface. When they can’t find Greg, the mastermind behind the role-play, they assume he’s put them in a new game. As one strange event follows another, however, the group fears there’s a more sinister force at work.
The Bunker Game Burns Too Slowly
Anyone unfamiliar with LARPing (or Live Action Role-Playing) may find the first 20 minutes or so confusing. That is, The Bunker Game drops you right into the titular ‘bunker’ amidst a crowded throng of LARPers and little to no explanation of what’s happening. It probably doesn’t help that LARPing’s time in the public consciousness passed several years ago. But writer and director Roberto Zazzara (along with several credited co-writers) compounds the problem by leaving audiences to sort through several characters role-playing other ‘characters’. By the time The Bunker Game singles out its primary cast you have little idea who these people and less reason to care.
Even as Zazzara finally introduces horror elements the threat is poorly defined blurring the line between ambiguity and suspense versus poor storytelling.
Arguably, what’s worse is that Zazzara doesn’t introduce any semblance of a threat until at least the 30 minute mark. From that point onward, The Bunker Game slowly – very slowly, that is – dishes out some scares. But they are sporadically spaced out in a thriller that feels more lacksadaisal than slow-burn. Even as Zazzara finally introduces horror elements the threat is poorly defined blurring the line between ambiguity and suspense versus poor storytelling. As The Bunker Game turns the corner into its final act, you may not be invested enough to find the reveal that interesting.
The Bunker Game is Brimming With Talent
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about The Bunker Game is that there’s plenty to admire about the movie. Just from a technical perspective, this is a sharp-looking movie bursting with style. Clearly, Zazzara knows his way around a camera. Straight out of the gate, The Bunker Game makes good use of its claustrophobic setting. Long shots of dark concrete halls add some mood to the proceedings. And neon colors lighting up gaping rooms do their best to conjure up memories of Giallo thrillers. Yet in spite of these filmmaking merits, The Bunker Game rarely feels scary. It’s a thriller circling in a holding pattern for far too long.
Just from a technical perspective, this is a sharp-looking movie bursting with style.
If the characters feel underwritten, it’s no fault of the cast. Once our anonymous LARPers exit the movie, The Bunker Game focuses on a small group of game organizers. Most of the movie revolves around the pregnant ‘Laura’ – played by Gaia Weiss (Meander) – who shares some connection with the supernatural source. Like the rest of the cast, we don’t know much about Laura. But Weiss’ performance is no less gripping. Lorenzo Richelmy’s slimy ‘Greg’ feels like he should have played more of a role. At least his presence added some character conflict. Though you may struggle to catch anyone else’s name, the remaining performances are uniformly strong.
The Bunker Game Never Gets Out of the Gate
Despite its good production values and visual style, The Bunker Game slow burns itself out before it ever really gets going. After a busy, confusing first 20 minutes or so, The Bunker Game sparsely spreads out scares over its 90-plus minutes. Zazzara’s decision to wait before introducing a clear threat just exacerbates the problem. Somewhere in Shudder’s latest thriller is a good movie. From the performances to the technical filmmaking, there was no lack of potential. But The Bunker Game takes too long to get where it’s going and where’s it’s going feels pretty underwhelming.