More and more, films have a tendency to blur genre lines. This can usually lead to a muddied film, but in some cases, we get a fun, thrill packed film such as Greg Francis’ POKER NIGHT. A film that toes the line between horror and thriller, it harks back to others of its ilk like the original SAW, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and SE7EN, with a little bit of tongue in cheek humor a la BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON.
With an extremely strong cast, including Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver (Sons of Anarchy, The Good Wife, ARGO), Ron Eldard (SUPER 8, BLACK HAWK DOWN), and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, Revolution), it takes these seasoned actors, and uses them as mentor police officers for our protagonist, Detective Stan Jeter, played by Beau Mirchoff. Jeter is just coming off of a huge case that got him his promotion, and he’s invited to a poker night with his superiors and a few retired officers, so they can impart their wisdom they’ve learned from previous cases.
The stories are told in a scattered fashion, as Jeter remembers them while he’s being imprisoned by a masked individual, known simply as The Man (Michael Eklund, THE CALL, NURSE 3D). The Man consistently stays one step ahead of Jeter’s escape attempts, reminding me of a masked version of SE7EN’s John Doe. And watching him tell his back story to Jeter is amusing despite his deplorable goals and rules. His rules: #1 Have sex with little girls. #2 Kill anyone that gets in the way of #1. While being a cunning genius, he is sleazy enough to ensure that he’s not a likable villain.
“Do you know how many tubes of Crazy Glue it takes to glue a man to the wall?”
Taking a strong cast and placing the majority of the work on a younger actor like Mirchoff may have been a gamble, but thanks to his commitment to the character, and the ability to use the veteran actors as not just mentors on screen, he does a great job as the lead. As the story bounces around, we get to see different sides of his personality, sometime painting a darker vein that he may not want us to see, but is vital in the telling of the story. And the veteran actors all do a great job of owning every moment they are on screen, without tilting it too far into one direction.
This being Francis’ first theatrical feature, I find it hilarious that the villain claims one of his key training materials was the Discovery Channel and its many shows about human predators. Francis has a big background in The Learning Channel and Discovery Channel shows, both producing and directing for them. While it’s his freshman theatrical effort, it is evident that he has a huge background in directing, both from TV and commercial work that really paid off.
I loved how things bounced around, but wasn’t overly confusing, just giving you the right amount of the story before moving forward. And the grimy nature of The Man was helped by great set design work and makeup and costume use. And while most films that have false endings have a tendency to kill the vibe, the one utilized in POKER NIGHT had me even more engaged at the end. It didn’t hurt that the actual ending was a strong one to back it up with as well. My only complaint is that the score in some parts was a little heavy handed, but in general it fit the tone well.
POKER NIGHT will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray February 10th, 2015!