Sometimes more is better. And sometimes more is just more. X Game is a convoluted gore/thriller in the vein of Saw. A group of former friends are pulled together for a reunion with their sixth grade teacher. Three days later, the teacher is found dead and the death is ruled a suicide. Hideaki finds a mysterious video that he believes shows what really happened.
Adapted from a novel of the same name by Yûsuke Yamada, X Game attempts to play with revenge genre tropes in a novel way. The characters comment on the form of revenge and immediately swing to extreme reactions. Hideaki becomes the martyr hero, willing to do anything to bring justice to the victims of the alleged killer. His girlfriend is totally uninterested, removed from the action because it doesn't personally effect her. The police officer in charge of the investigation into the teacher's death is the resolute authority figure. He goes with the most obvious decision and refuses to waiver from the suicide judgment. And the girl allegedly responsible for the death is the Sadako figure, a being of infinite rage and evil who cannot be stopped; Hideaki even calls her Sadako when he first sees her in the video.
The three classmates who become trapped in the X Game--a schoolyard prank/punishment game where a victim randomly draws punishments out of a tin (sit on tacks, get smacked with a ruler, etc.)--represent various tropes, as well. Their roles shift in clever and unexpected ways. One student is the amoral thrill seeker (think Kazuo Kiriyama in Battle Royale) who begins to be driven by more than sensation. Another is the damsel who snaps when her lifelong strategy of relying on everyone else to fight her battles fails. The third is the sensible character offering a rational solution who becomes the most dangerous of all.
The problem with X Game is that it has too many ideas. It attempts to comment on the genre in far too many ways at once. You realize when the X Game actually begins that the film is nowhere near complete and the action cannot sustain the rest of the film. Then the X Game finishes and there's still close to an hour of story to go. There is no rational explanation for the structure of the story. It moves fast but it goes nowhere.
The linchpin to the biggest twist is far too predictable, but it does nothing to justify the elaborate back story that overtakes the last 30 minutes of the film. It's a bizarre series of twists that doesn't re-contextualize the story so much as it nullifies anything unique about this approach to horror. You can't provide razor sharp commentary on the tropes of the revenge genre and then voluntarily throw the whole film into the abyss of the worst of the genre with total sincerity. It's too jarring a shift in tone. It's a betrayal more egregious than the ridiculous denouement of the actual story of the film.
This review is part of 31 Days of Horror 2013. Click through for more great horror content in celebration of October.