5. Ready or Not (2019)
Games in horror movies typically come in two varieties, ones people are forced to play by sickos and ones people play unaware of the nightmare they’ve just invited into their lives. The game at the center of this absolute gem of a film is a little bit of both as a new bride is tasked with her husband’s family’s tradition of playing a certain game on the wedding night. The cursed puzzle box demands “hide and seek,” and that kicks off a riotously good time as the whole family sets about trying to find and kill her. Samara Weaving is pitch-perfect as the bloodied bride, and the film offers up a steady stream of laughs, kills, and creative beats. Also? The ending is perfection. (Rob Hunter)
4. Saw (2004)
No, Mr. Jigsaw Killer (if that even is your real name), I do not want to play a game. Nice try, loser. Did James Wan and Leigh Whannell singlehandedly invent the escape room craze? Maybe. What’s important is that 2004’s Saw definitely popularized the idea of “oh no! I have to solve demented puzzles to get out of this horrible nightmare room!” Indeed, Saw is full of “games.” Like the “game” where Amanda has to dig a key out of a dude’s guts to remove a reverse bear trap from her head. Good job, Amanda, you won, uh… joie de vivre. Nice. You know what will really make people appreciate their fleeting mortal lives? Electrified ankle chains. My god, Mr. Jigsaw, you’re a genius. But you are banned from board game night. (That said, John Kramer, you are absolutely invited to play hide and seek with us anytime). (Meg Shields)
3. eXistenZ (1999)
I watched David Cronenberg‘s eXistenZ for the first time in about four or five years, and I was completely confused. Confused as to why I don’t hear Cronenberg-heads constantly talking it up as incredible. Because it is incredible, and Cronenberg-heads love to talk up any and all Cronenberg. eXistenZ takes place in the not-so-distant future, where virtual reality games have morphed from headsets into game pods that are surgically connected to the spine of players. The film follows a focus group testing out the latest game from famed developer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh). What happens next is a blending of reality and fiction that gets very gooey and slimy in a way that only Cronenberg can. Does Geller’s latest game contain an anti-game slant, or did someone from the outside try to get in and poison it? You decide, viewing audience! (Chris Coffel)
2. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)
When we think of games, we often think of the standard ones: board games, card games, or video games. But there’s a whole other genre of game that’s ripe for on-screen exploration, the kind I like to call “sleepover games.” These are your Bloody Marys, your Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, and so forth. But what happens when the internet becomes our primary place for community, and the kids who might have been chanting in the mirror with their friends if they’d been born a few decades earlier end up alone in their bedrooms, falling down a dark, nightly rabbit hole of Creepypastas?
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, the unsettling and insightful narrative debut from filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun asks and answers that question in the most compelling way possible. It follows a teen named Casey (Anna Cobb), whose world starts to become strange after she plays the “game” the film is named after. The viral challenge is pretty simple: record yourself while you repeat “We’re all going to the world’s fair,” smear blood on your computer, and watch a special video. The results are ambiguous but disturbing. While most of the films on this list are about the games we engage in with others. This unforgettably weird story is about the games we play when left all too alone. (Valerie Ettenhofer)
1. Battle Royale (2000)
If I had to rank this entire list based on how likely I’d want to play the game featured in each film, Battle Royale would be at the absolute bottom. Look, I get it. The most dangerous game is man hunting man. But as someone who much prefers playing video games on easy so I can better focus on the story, let’s just say I’d much rather let a Freddy Krueger knock-off scan my brain than be pitted against my fellow peers in an all-out blood-filled rumble. But more than any other game on this list, Battle Royale is one of the few that actually led to a hugely popular trend in gaming. Yeah, “Battle Royale” may be synonymous with Fortnite, PUBG, and Super Smash Brothers, but the word so many games use now was plucked directly from Kinji Fukasaku’s grim fascistic nightmare. (Jacob Trussell)
Do you want to play a game? Good, now let’s see how many more 31 Days of Horror Lists you can read in the next sixty minutes.
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