Review: The Game

Written and directed by Aldo Vassallo, one night, as George attempts to drown out his parents’ constant and escalating conflicts by gluing his eyes to his Gameboy, he’s startled by the sound of a deafening scream coming from his mother’s bedroom. Starring: Nicolas Calero, Adrienne Laurén and Shah Motia.

Divorce and domestic abuse are topics that have been explored a lot in film and television but rarely are they viewed through the eyes of children, which is exactly what Aldo Vassallo does with The Game. It’s interesting how it’s translated through both the story and the direction, particularly in how Vassallo chooses for the first half of the film to keep the focus on George (Nicolas Calero). His parents are often obscured from view, or shot facing away from the camera. It’s a fantastic device to show the coldness, distance and trauma, demonstrating the wall that’s being built between them as George processes their abusive relationship. However, in the latter half it follows a more traditional pattern which is a shame, it really capitalised on the emotion initially so it would have been great to see that through to the end.

It’s quite a similar story with the writing, the first half of the film has subtlety while the second is straight forward. The trouble with that is when you switch to an open perspective, it changes the playing field for emotion, and sadly for the weaker here. That switch in tone doesn’t land as well, and it’s making choices that leave George as the only token of rationality, which can make it hard to connect with. Its evolution for the mother character, played by Adrienne Laurén, feels over simplified, her own processing of trauma feels much too easy in comparison with George’s. The effect that has is lessening the convincing quality to the story, loosening its grasp on the subject, restricting it from a more impactful ending.

Handing a role like this to any child actor is always going to be a risk but Nicolas Calero does a perfect job of capturing the naivety, confusion and trauma. He easily communicates how abusive events permeate the consciousness of children, they may not understand what they’re seeing and need time to process but it stills gets through. One of the key elements to his performance is that he plays it simple, it doesn’t need a big physicality or volume, he keeps it convincing and understated. The parents on the other hand require a loudness and roughness, Nicolas Calero and Adrienne Laurén give the audience exactly that. It moves in a wave from toxicity to abuse, and they portray the ramping of intensity, the tipping point into danger. In the latter half, much like the way the story moves, they do feel less convincing and there’s perhaps an overadjustment to their personas.

The Game captures an abusive relationship through the eyes of a child, demonstrating the harsh and lasting impact the trauma can have. It employs some great subtle and moving techniques in the first half but finds itself on more stereotypical ground in its later scenes. It’s a great concept and highlights a poignant subject but while the ending does make its point, it loses its impact by smoothing over the parents’ journey.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

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