Lets get it out of the way early Gatlopp is a terrible title for a horror movie. Its probably meant to be an intriguing tease that makes viewers wonder whether GATLOPP sometimes styled in allcaps is an acronym a specific reference or the onomatopoeia for some particularly horrific messy act of violence. Shuddering Lance turned away rather than watch as the gelatinous alien monster ingested the other half of his fallen comrade with a wet echoing gatlopp. Instead it sounds silly and thudding at the same time like a neologism someone made up while drunk and keeps trying to force on soberer friends.
But while the movie is just about as ridiculous as its title in full Gatlopp Hell of a Game it lands a lot better. A microbudgeted adult take on the likes of the magical boardgame stories Jumanji and Zathura Gatlopp puts its central group of angsty young professionals through the wringer effectively turning Truth or Dare into a highstakes game of fessing up to deep secrets and potentially friendshipending lies. Its appropriately goofy given the premise and the structure but a brisk pace and a committed cast turns it into a diverting indie horrormovie spin on a familiar gimmick.
The action is built around a drinking game that amiable bar promoter Cliff Jon Bass finds in a used credenza and forces on his reluctant friends. Highprofile TV producer Samantha Emmy RaverLampman and struggling wannabe actor Troy Sarunas J. Jackson have both reached points in their lives where theyre ready to move on from the partyhardy days when they were all devoted besties. But Cliff wrangles them into a gettogether to support their old friend Paul Jim Mahoney also the screenwriter and an executive producer whos middivorce and turning into a maudlin mess after learning that his soontobe ex has moved in with a rich successful reportedly wellendowed rival.
The early scenes make it clear enough that all four of these characters are wellknown types Paul is a weary Eeyore who devoted his life to his relationship and cant believe its all fallen apart. Troy is strained under the weight of his failure to launch as an actor but is using an easygoing persona and ready smile to mask his disappointment and make all his setbacks seem temporary. Samantha the groups biggest success has made her work into her life and personality to the point where she has strictly limited time for her old friends.
And Cliff the shaggyhaired stoner whos clearly pleased to have crafted a life where he can still hit the booze like hes in college is the keeper of their friendships the guy with a wall of party Polaroids to remind them all of the times they got wasted together got weird haircuts or made bad decisions. When the others want to settle for sharing a beer then giving Paul a hug and a Sorry man on their way out the door Cliff is the one who guilts them into devoting an evening to reliving their shared party days over the drinking game he just found. Gatlopp he says is Swedish for the gauntlet. But even as hes talking up the game to his reluctant buds he has no inkling about the gauntlet hes about to put them all through.
Running at an efficient highenergy 80 minutes Gatlopp doesnt have a lot of time to waste on the characters disbelief when their drinking game starts demanding personal information from them moving pieces around on the board by itself and imposing supernatural penalties when they dodge questions. By the time they find out that if they dont complete the game theyll have to play it for eternity in hell theyve already been given plenty of other reasons to play fair and follow through even if it means revealing the secrets theyve been withholding from themselves and each other.
Mahoneys script puts just the right amount of reality into those secrets and the reasons this foursome would keep them buried. Itd be just about impossible to make a horror movie about an enchanted board game without a heavy layer of camp comedy and selfawareness and Gatlopp obliges in that regard with a winkwink attitude toward all the confrontations and twists the game summons up. An animated opening credits sequence with CG pieces sailing through the air to a musical theme that summons up Beetlejuiceera Danny Elfman sets a bouncy tone that clearly says Dont take any of this too seriously.
But theres some authentic sadness to these characters as well as they confront the ways their individual adult lives betrayed the simple friendship of their younger days and the way theyve let down each other and themselves. Theres a solid structure at work here as firsttime feature director Alberto Belli uses lighting and production design to put flashbacks to the characters collective past in contrast with their current lives. It feels like a budget decision as much as a thematic one that sets both eras in the same house Cliffs inherited family home. But while that decision can feel restrictive it works in the movies favor as well to show both how little and how much difference seven years has made to everyone in this story and how far theyve veered from where they once expected to be.
And while the reveals are often broad and pat the cast does an admirable job of selling them. A latefilm reveal about a dark secret Samanthas been sitting on feels so abrupt and so anguished that it could easily veer into the territory of Phoebe Cates infamous How Daddy died at Christmas speech from the original Gremlins. But RaverLampman drops the camp aspects and puts herself so fully into the moment that she gives the audience a reason to care about the outcome of a relationship they didnt have a hint about five minutes earlier. That moment doesnt pull Gatlopp far away from its overall air of a pleasantly playful timewaster the kind of diversion meant for cult horror fans looking for something they havent seen on screen before a thousand times already.
Its the kind of film that feels tailormade for audiences at Fantastic Fest at a midnight drivein screening or in the woozy late hours of a Halloween party where everyones simultaneously keyed up and worn out. In spite of its highstakes threats of eternal torment its a movie with such a low buyin that its cheap look feels charming and its comparatively tight and effective crafting seems admirable. If horror fans can look past that clunky title theyll find more fun in Gatlopp than the description adult spin on the original Jumanji initially seems to promise. Gatlopp debuts for ondemand and digital rental or purchase on June 16.