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First Look Review - IT’S JUST A GAME

it's just a game review
A teenage girl is kidnapped by a cult intent on summoning an ancient witch.

Review by Sue Finn

Directed by: Daniel Emery Taylor

Starring: Hannah Cohen-Lawlor, Sarah Kopkin, Leah Hudspeth, Rachel Marshall, Alicia Clark, G Larry Butler

it's just a game poster

We begin this movie at a classic horror setting – the Sleepover.

Four girls are telling each other stories of urban legends, starting with the tale of Mercy Proctor, who, many years ago, disappeared when she went to draw water from her well. Later her skull was found in the bucket, her body, legend claims, dissolved in the well.

One of the girls, our protagonist Ruby (Sarah Kopkin – not bad), takes part in a dare where she has to get in a bath to ask a wish of Mercy for her greatest desire. If done wrong, she’ll drown with Mercy.

“It’s just a game!” they laugh as they interrupt the ritual with a ‘gotcha’ moment that wakes Ruby’s sleeping mum.

They return to the slumber party to regale each other with more tales, this time of Skull Girl, who tried to kill herself but unintentionally degloved her face and is now roaming the wood in search of children to eat.

it's just a game review

They decide to summon Mother Murder, another urban legend and an old witch cursed to live in the underworld after a deal with the devil during the witch trials.

Later, after Claire (the bitch) and Isabella (her sidekick) go home, Brianna (Hannah Cohen-Lawlor) spends the night with Ruby.


The next morning, they come down to breakfast to meet a dad who is older than time and not in any way believable as a character. He tells Ruby that sister Jade (Alicia M Clark) is in town after arriving during the night. Ruby runs to her room to greet her. “Oh” Jade says in a flat voice as her younger sister leaps onto her bed “you just scared the shit out of me” – these lines are delivered as if via robotics. Jade is oddly up to date on the happenings of the night before and is aware of the newly formed split loyalties of Ruby’s friend group.

They enjoy an odd breakfast of obviously store-bought muffins, hard looking unadorned crepes and a whole orange while dad discusses the crepe ingredients with an '80s-sitcom -goshdarn-it-these-kids-are-crazy aspect to his demeanour that lowers the proceedings even more.

it's just a game review

A trip to a record store is revealing for our cast – Brianna’s parents previously committed suicide! Claire hates Ruby now! Jade is a lesbian!

Meanwhile – “Mother, you’ve been summoned” a cloaked figure says to a tree, and then we are in Claire’s house to witness her family’s slaughter and her own kidnap.

It transpires that she is taken to a compound where a cult of ‘brothers’ and incest reigns.


Back in the suburbs, Brianna is callously happy that Claire is supposedly dead; but of course Claire isn’t, and is part of a larger plot revealing Brianna’s destiny and the plans of the death cult.

Production-wise, this is amateur hour. The sets look hollow and false (for instance Ruby’s lounge room looks like it has been stripped and ready to be shown to prospective renters; in no way does it look like somebody lives there), the sound is frequently dropping to levels where you need to strain to hear the dialogue, the lighting sometimes makes the actors appear over-exposed; it is difficult to work within what I imagine was a very tight budget but more care was needed in these areas.

it's just a game review

The acting veers from wildly theatrical and silly to wooden and stilted. Reactions are muted to the point of disbelief. Only Cohen-Lawlor as Brianna, and Leah Hudspeth as Sister Amelia are consistently reasonable in the acting stakes, with Hudspeth the standout - she’s far better than the material deserves.

As written and directed by Daniel Emery Taylor (who should not appear in one of his movies again, should he endeavour to make more), the jumbled mess of a script is talky, melodramatic and boring but the direction features some nicely artistic shots, though it is overly reliant on cheap camera tricks.

The final death was fun and effective, and Skull Girl was kinda cool, but apart from a few good performances that’s all I can recommend here.

A lame game.

It's Just a Game is on US DVD/Digital now. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2020 movie reviews