STORY GAME, written and directed by Jason K. Lau, brings back campfire tales with a technological spin. A trio of friends camping in a spot in Hawaii uses the Story Game app to list three elements to include in their tales. With money on the line, they recruit the help of a guard to judge to elect the winner of who told the best story. Though the potential was there for scares, there is little tension throughout the film. The app, which is the whole basis for the title, gets relegated to a device to separate this film from its predecessors. No stakes, faulty acting, and no tension makes the STORY GAME drag.
When Chika (Lyrica Okano), Nicole (Greer Grammer), and James (Alberto Rosende) arrive to enjoy fun in the sun, a guard, Silva (Ned Van Zandt), advises them to go to a hotel. As students, they cannot afford the pricey hotels, so the guard relents and allows them to camp with a few rules. Then there is a montage of them setting up camp, lights, and getting food, and this is one of the most entertaining parts of STORY GAME.
The acting between the trio is solid as they banter, and debate who is the better storyteller. They come from three different areas of study; graphic novelist, novelist, and screenwriter, they each have strong opinions on which profession lends itself to campfire storytelling. Then Nicole asks James about the app his friend made, and James asks if they want to play the beta version. They decide on a friendly wager. The winner gets $150, and the loser has to make breakfast for a week. Unfortunately, it goes downhill after that.
The stories they tell must include green eyes, take place in Japan, and be in the supernatural genre. So each storyteller tells a story related to a Japanese urban legend. There is the story of Hanako, Kuchisake-Onna (Slit-mouthed woman), and Banchō Sarayashiki with some alterations. I love urban legends and know about these tales and plenty of others. So to see them onscreen and feel no shivers up and down my spine is disappointing.
The Hanako story is an urban legend of a bullied girl haunting bathrooms. Chika delivers this origin story that is like Carrie without the pigs’ blood. If you are going to try, you have to bring your best because comparisons do you no favors. The acting is dramatic and reeks of insincerity. The same goes for Kuchisake-Onna, where a woman in a mask asks people if she is pretty. The effort behind the acting is noticeable. The acting is not as bad in the last story, but the tension is not created or held through it.
Another issue is the writing. The dialogue is meant to serve a purpose, but in the stories, the dialogue often seems pointless and even contradictory. In the Kuchisake-Onna story, Ken (Jason Quinn) says he does not know what he and his wife argued about, but as he starts the story the conversation with his wife shows she is upset he does not spend enough time with her. Granted the story could be showing us he is a liar, but that gives too much credit and has no point either since we learn little else about Ken.
In the Banchō Sarayashiki legend, a husband is having an affair with one of his servants, Okiku (Mariko Tohmi). But it also turns out the wife is assaulting Okiku. When the wife accuses Okiku of taking a mask and having an affair with her husband, the anger is that of a jealous wife. There is no other indication, save for when she kisses Okiku, that she wants Okiku. It feels there for cheap, pointless (keep coming back to that) titillation and there is nothing enticing about it.
The picture quality is beautiful and vibrant. Jason K. Lau does not falter in this area, but the lack of buildup and stakes make scenes in STORY GAME dry rather than inspiring cold sweats. The twist at the end is interesting, compared with most of the film, but it is not enough to make the movie watchable. THE STORY GAME is what happens when a film tries to draw from movies rather than life; weak dialogue and slack tension.
STORY GAME will release on Demand & Digital and stream exclusively on Screambox on June 21.
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