In a few weeks time, you will be taking a walk in the forest; your foot will catch on something, and you’ll glance down to see what it is. Your mind takes a few seconds to make sense of the shape, incongruous as it is, but suddenly, it will click. It’s me, flat on my back, almost overgrown by moss and grass and leaves. In the moments before the earth rises to swallow me entirely, you will see my mouth move, my parched tongue croaking out one word: “Gamer.“
In the great Gerard Butler Cinematic Universe Retrospective that I am so proudly bringing to life here on this blog, we’ve seen a real spread of movie kinds and quality: from the excellent (The Vanishing), to the silly-but-fun (Den of Thieves, Law-Abiding Citizen) to the awful-but-kind-of-endearing (Dracula 2000). But I don’t think any of it really comes close to reaching the sheer insanity and sheer, gob-smacking dreadfulness of the 2009 tech-thriller Gamer.
This is where I would usually give you a quick synopsis of the movie, so we could be on roughly the same page when I go into my deep-dive, but truly, I don’t know where to start. Gerard Butler plays the online-but-also-real-life avatar of a teenage gamer (Logan Lerman) in a giant meta-verse battleground (designed and controlled by the multi-accent tech genius Castle, played by Michael C Hall) where death row inmates can fight for their freedom in a series of user-directed death matches.
Does that make sense? Well, neither does the rest of the film, so at least it’s consistent. Right from the off, we’re thrown into the deep end of that horrendous noughties action editing, all fast cuts and unexpected zooms that have you groping for the sick bucket within about twenty seconds. There’s some pretty decent sets and action sequences in here – at least, I think there are – but they’re so buried under the absolute cacophony of impenetrably horrible “style” you wouldn’t know it. Frequent collaborators Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are clearly trying to imbue Gamer with a distinctive visual signature, but it genuinely feels like someone is trying to punch your eyes out through the back of your skull for the most part. I could literally not tell you at any point during any action sequence what was going on or who was involved.
Of course, it’s not all about the action. No, Gamer, as the title suggests, is actually a really nuanced look at the contemporary gaming culture at the time that it was – nah, sorry, can’t even get through it with a straight face. Gamer sneers joylessly at all the nasty attributes given to people who enjoy video gaming – that they’re perverted, desperate, sweaty, pathetic, violence-hungry creeps – while also indulging those very same people with almost every shot of the movie. The misogyny is downright comical, with the camera shooting directly up the actual arsehole every single hapless female actor in this “movie”, while the gore-splattered violence and gleeful nastiness basically demolishes any attempt it might have made to comment on gamer culture. The disdain it has for gamer culture is almost matched for the disdain it has for everyone else, too.
Michael C Hall is sort of brilliant, in the way that Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending is sort of brilliant, in that he’s actually fucking awful but at least seems to know exactly what the film requires of him. I wish I could tell you that I’m exaggerating when I say he has a full song-and-dance lipsync sequence in the third act, but I’m not. At least he looks somewhat like he wants to be there – Gerard Butler tried to take his name off the movie after seeing the first cut, and truly, I cannot blame him one little bit. Butler, if he has nothing else, has a lot of charisma, and Gamer manages to somehow strip him of even that.
The trappings of the futuristic world it’s set in look remarkably like someone vaguely describing this aesthetic of The Fifth Element while on acid. Milo Ventimiglia briefly cameos as a character called Rick Rape. John Leguizamo is here, for reasons I don’t fully understand. I don’t know what to tell you, I really don’t. This movie was akin to the experience of being wrung out like a dirty sponge, and I truly feel as though I have reached some sort of psychological impasse with myself for going through it. Could I have watched this film – a mere ninety minutes, though it feels like an entire menstrual period – and still claim to love myself? To even like myself?
Gamer is so fucking awful and so downright bizarre I don’t think I can truly capture it’s deeply, unsettlingly weird essence in this single article. Should you watch it? Of course not. In fact, consider this a warning: Gamer will snatch what little peace of mind you have left and crush it under the jackboot of one horrendously seasick dutch tilt. Save yourself. It’s too late for me. All I can hope for is that my brain does me the sweet mercy of allowing me to repress the last full year of my life and this film within it. Fingers crossed.
By Lou MacGregor
(header image via Time Out)