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‘Wicked Games’ Goes All-In on Style, Lack of Substance

Home invasion thriller boasts strong lead performance buried by tics, tricks

Filmmakers are getting better at exploring the fallout from personal trauma.

What happens when you experience pain and suffering on a scale beyond the average incident? The fallout never ends, something the clunky thriller “Wicked Games” explores.

It’s the most interesting part of an otherwise forgettable genre film, one with so much emphasis on style that the wafer-thin story hardly matters.

Wicked Games (2021) - Trailer | VMI Worldwide

Christine Spang stars as Harley, a strong-willed woman who decides to vacation with a man she barely knows. That’s Kiel (Markus Silbiger), a likable gent with a painful past.

They flirt and smooch, showcasing both killer chemistry and the excitement of young love. Director Teddy Grennan (“Ravage”) doesn’t rush these moments. Instead, Grennan leans into this couple exploring each other’s boundaries.

Genre films rarely show such patience.

Kiel’s past comes back to haunt the new couple in ways that veer directly into SpoilerVille. Just know Harley’s survival instincts are challenged in profound, and bloody, ways within Kiel’s ancestral home.

“Wicked Games” shrewdly shows Harley’s grit in an early bar sequence. She’s no pushover, something a handsy jerk learns the hard way. That’s a problem when we realize the thugs invading her new beau’s homes don’t stand a chance against this force of nature.

That may be empowering, but it robs the film of vital tension.

We eventually learn more about both Harley and her assailants, but it’s boilerplate material that hardly sustains a full-length feature.

What’s left? Oodles of camera trickery meant to spike the stakes at play.

Nothing doing. In fact, all the camera wobbles, focus shifts and intense musical cues distract more than they engage. It’s clear there’s little meat on this cinematic bone, and the various tics inadvertently highlight the problem.

It’s hardly Spang’s fault. She brings both sex appeal and vulnerability to Harley. Yes, you wouldn’t pick a fight with her, but she’s complex enough to command our attention.

The same can’t be said for the villains here, a grab bag of disposable cretins who aren’t memorable in the least.

Harley deserves a superior brand of foe.

Too many scenes find our heroine brandishing a weapon or otherwise staring down a baddie in a “tough guy” posture. We love pulpy fare, but when you make that goal obvious it drains the fun from the adventure.

The film’s bleak worldview runs through the waning moments, giving way to an end credits blooper reel that might give viewers whiplash.

It’s like meeting the man of your dreams and, suddenly, fighting for your life in his sprawling estate. They should make a movie about that, but one a bit better than these “Games.”

HiT or Miss: “Wicked Games” boasts a solid turn from Christine Spang but too few thrills to recommend it.

4 Comments

  1. If you’re going to take the time to write the review, whether good or bad, get the name right. It’s GRENNAN to you.

    1. Fixed … with apologies. The site software occasionally changes names without warning after hitting publish. But I should have circled backhand double-checked this given your last name isn’t Smith or Jones.

    2. Your movie doesn’t even warrant a review. Story has been done 1000x before, and almost all have been done better. The ‘blooper’ reel was the cherry ont he sh*t cake.

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