From DANGER AFTER DARK, the studio who brought you the unlikely fusion of bizarre sexuality and ancient tabletop strategy known as “Strip Mahjong Battle Royale” comes a new film two pack about games of death: Death Penalty.com and Death Penalty.com A New Beginning. While this film also features an all Asian cast and a unique, brutal sport involving innocent players who don’t realize how serious “losing” an online game can be, this film is much more deep, less sexual and infinitely more darker than the previous “Game of Death” flick from this film house and no further comparison should be made, despite the immediate visual similarity of the two premises. Let us take a look at Death Penalty.com and see if is an act of righteous violence, or it is merely another seventy seven minutes of senseless “cruel and unusual” punishment.
Death Penalty.Com (2011)
It seems the internet has made every aspect of our lives easier, but some things are meant to be a difficult endeavor and despite recent advances in technology it seems revenge killing and righteous vengeance are, as of yet, no simple point and click ap. Thankfully there is a site called “Death Penalty.com” where anyone who wishes who kill someone else can join their anonymous council of hooded co-conspirators and have their blood enemy taken care of for them. Of course things aren’t just as simple as that, once people enter this online chat room and take the oath to join the cadre of killers they must help other members with their murders as well by aiding the crime in some fashion, by either committing the act, supplying the weapon or getting rid of the body. Needless to say, Failure to act when it is your turn to help will mean certain death by “God” (the games site master/ the sites game master) who makes sure that anyone who tries to interfere with game is “ended” themselves.
With the rules of this game being clearly stated (with just yet enough mystery and subtext remaining to allow for a few surprises later) we meet our first player of this terminal social club for sadists, a young man named Ryuta who is the head receptionist an outcall brothel run by a detestable jerk named Kojima who abuses him most terribly. While Ryuta is certainly no angel in his own right, he does seem like a guy who is trying to make the best of a bad situation and after a beating by Kojima most viewers will identify with the his character, perhaps sympathizing with him wholly as he answers an enigmatic email that takes him to a very dark place both inside his soul and on his screen once he plays the game that should have simplified his life.
Needless to say, this simply doesn’t happen and it isn’t long before Ryuta is failing at all aspects of the game, has run afoul of at least one other player, soon others and suddenly finds himself in terrible is terrible danger from his association with it. While I found the technical aspects of this “antisocial network” to be unrealistic, unlikely and all but impossible, suffice to say, if you can come to this game with a little bit of suspension of disbelief you will be rewarded with some genuinely creepy moments and unsettling revelations. For a horror movie that takes place in the underworld of a Hong Kong brothel it should be made known that there is no real nudity or graphic violence and the murders themselves are deliberately shot from a concealing angle. It works though and the restraint it gives this thing kind of Hitchcock flair.
Death Penalty.Com: A New Beginning (2011)
Sometime after the original murders it seems a software company wants to make a video game based on the original killings that took place in Death Penalty.com. So an entire team of young debuggers are sequestered in a remote private cabin with a haunted history of madness and suicide. It isn’t long though before “God”, the china doll masked character from the original film makes an appearance of his own on one of their computers with a new retinue of masked ghouls in tow and they start teaching these young programmers a whole new meaning of “bleeding edge” technology. Due to the unique revelation structure of this film I can’t tell you much about the plot of this thing without completely laying it bare, but viewers should pay special attention to the flashback of the murder that (once again) occurs at the beginning of the film and you might have a chance to figure out this thing before your friends do and perhaps appreciate the film more, for all the hidden nuances. Once again, the killers from Death Penalty.com split the task of murder with one another in order to forge the perfect alibi but this time, the emphasis seems to be more on the victims of the website than on the person who foolishly joined a blood pact with online strangers in all concealing scary masks; ultimately joining a murder cult because it just seemed like the “right thing” to do at the time.
The ending of this one seemed ponderous, preachy and took forever to work itself out but once it was complete there was a rare message of tolerance and forgiveness that is seldom seen in movies about films depicting games of death (and I should know, I have them all). Yet for those dyed-in-the-wool gore hounds who enjoyed these blood games and wish to seem them continue, there is an alternate message and that is for those that seek to play themselves, the infamous website “Death penalty.com” will go on and might soon be coming soon to a computer screen near them... A sequel would be acceptable, but truth be told at this point in the story it seems all but unstoppable.
I liked this and not just because I am a nice guy who has a secret film fetish for movies where perfectly normal people are forced to bash their best friend’s brains in while an evil master manipulator watches from the safety of his computer and keeps score while waxing pretentiously on the true nature of humanity between long thoughtful sips of cognac. This is reminiscent of an early SAW film when Jigsaw was still an enigmatic boogeyman instead of just a master craftsman psycho who was driven insane by cancer, human disappointment and the loss of his unborn son. While admittedly, this is nowhere near as graphic as a SAW film, nor is it as well-budgeted, the ending of both of these Death Penalty.com flicks somehow manages to be subtle and uplifting, if not containing a hopeful message about the nature of humanity and the importance of proper personal conduct despite the fact both films were drenched in senseless vice and human vigilantism. This makes Death Penalty worth playing, (though only vicariously, as a spectator who watches it from the safety of their DVD player).
Special Features include trailers for other After Dark Films.
Death Penalty.com is released on March 12, 2013. Special Thanks to Danger After Dark for the advance copy.