We all keep secrets. From our friends, our families…even ourselves. Wild, horror-adjacent comedy GATLOPP examines what happens when those secrets bubble to the surface. A group of friends play a mysterious board game called Gatlopp found in a potentially haunted credenza. When they discover that the game seems to be playing them, Jumanji-style, they must figure out how to stay alive long enough to beat the game before sunrise. Though the premise sounds derivative, director Alberto Belli’s GATLOPP feels anything but: it mines charming and surprising veins of comedy and character work, emerging as one of the freshest and funniest movies of the year.
Paul (Jim Mahoney, who also wrote the film) is in the middle of a divorce, and his old friend Cliff (Jon Bass) decides to host a get-together to cheer him up. He enlists their friends Sam (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Troy (Sarunas J. Jackson) for an evening of drinking, old stories, and games. When the Gatlopp cards become impossibly personal and intense — asking the characters about specific past traumas and addressing them by name — the mood turns from lighthearted to panicked, especially when the game devises punishments for breaking the rules. However, the film’s crisp humor remains constant. Mahoney’s script is quick on its feet and breezy, turning even the darkest moments into opportunities for huge laughs, but it still develops its characters’ relationships and gives us a sense of who these people are (and who they used to be) with impressive skill.
The opening credits for GATLOPP are a perfect microcosm of the film itself. They are whimsical yet menacing, bringing the board game to life in a Beetlejuice-meets-Game of Thrones-style sequence. Like the credits, there’s nothing terribly original or groundbreaking about the film, but its execution is so strong that you can’t help but be charmed. The script is so brisk and witty, and the chemistry and camaraderie between the characters feel so easy and organic, that I could have spent another 90 minutes just watching this cast drink, talk, and roll dice. Paul, Cliff, Sam, and Troy feel like real people who have known each other for years, and it’s a testament to the actors and the writer that they establish those connections immediately and still find ways to deepen them as the story progresses.
GATLOPP has some unique tricks up its sleeve, despite its obvious debt to Jumanji. Whimsical transitions and character introductions set the upbeat yet off-kilter tone of the movie early on. Kenny Wood’s hilarious music cues add to the film’s personality, keeping the tone nimble and light. We meet each character with a Polaroid with their name written on it, and the film draws attention to the seams between them with quirky edits: a character drives off in a car in one scene and the moving car serves as a wipe to bring the viewer into the next scene.
Those Polaroids serve a thematic purpose, as we see in Cliff’s “mistake wall.” He has Polaroids of past parties taped up in his house, depicting embarrassing or otherwise memorable moments with his friends. The flashbacks providing context to the “mistakes” are hilarious, but they turn bittersweet as the characters realize how much time has passed and how different they are now. GATLOPP is as much about the ways friendships evolve as it is about a cursed board game, and it is just as much fun to watch these characters navigate those changes as it is to watch them deal with all the deranged challenges the game throws at them.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a good movie. GATLOPP is a smart and exceedingly well-executed take on a familiar idea. Its sharp humor, strong cast, and unique personality make it stand out from its influences, making it one of my most pleasant cinematic surprises in recent memory. The titular possessed board game proves that secrets never stay buried for long; after all, the truth will come out. Hopefully, GATLOPP’s wit and warmth ensure that it becomes just as well known.
GATLOPP will be available on Demand and on Digital on June 23, 2022.