Director: Daniel Falicki
Writer: Daniel Falicki
Producer: Warren Croyle, Sheri Beth Dusek
Stars: Stephen Grey, Michael Cunningham, Daniel Falicki, Steve Taber, Patrick Hendren, Jackson Ezinga
Fantasy bleeds into reality when three friends play a cursed board game capable of driving players to commit murder.
30 years ago, the fantasy board game “13 Daemons” was banned when people became so obsessed with role-playing their characters, they committed murder in reality. In the decades since, the seemingly cursed game became a fabled white buffalo among sword-and-sorcery fans. So when three Cheetos-eating, PlayStation-playing, scruffy-haired pals unexpectedly uncover a rare copy, of course they are raring to give it a go. As the saying goes, you can have three guesses as to what happens next, and the first two don’t count.
For those who remember Tom Hanks in “Mazes and Monsters” or the Satanic Panic “60 Minutes” exposé laughably linking Dungeons and Dragons with death and black magic, “13 Demons” stokes the right fire for a sinister short about make-believe driving men to madness. Unfortunately, “13 Demons” is a feature-length film. No matter how cool the concept may be for RPG enthusiasts, it’s only good for one gallon of gas trying to fuel a 15-gallon tank.
“13 Demons” is a homegrown effort produced on a shoestring, with a multitude of minutes spent confined to the same cramped apartment as the three players. In that sense, the experience is similar to that of actually playing a dice game adventure. In other words, settle in for over an hour inside a dimly lit room decorated by popcorn bags and a Shasta three-liter while a trio of nerds smokes pot and farts.
Much like a pen-and-paper tabletop game, “13 Demons” uses so few accessories that your imagination had best be prepared to fill in plentiful blanks. When players enter a fantasy vision to fight one of the titular adversaries, the setup is simply an actor in costume against a plain background while discolored ripple effects distort the image. Good enough for government work, although not enough for an illusion of immersion.
The film calls attention to its cheap chic by going to great lengths to specifically not show anything, like the creatures that are only seen in silhouette. Had the movie made any attempt at impressing viewers with a singularly memorable setpiece, it would be easier to overlook its limitations.
I appreciate that writer/director Daniel Falicki is making the most of a meager budget while shooting a micro-movie in Michigan. But when a scrabbling filmmaker already comes all this way, why not splurge an extra couple hundred bucks on something essential such as a demon makeup? One killer creation would bring a lot of mileage to a movie sorely in need of something to stand out.
Falicki’s script isn’t half bad. Dialogue sounds as though it comes from the keyboard of someone authentically familiar with D&D jargon. And considering that the main men have to switch personalities from stoners to medieval knights, they do a pretty passable job for two novice actors.
The question is, how much of a 70-minute runtime can we reasonably expect to be occupied by inconsequential RPG blather? Scene after scene features the trio spouting lines like, “you approach two trolls guarding a bridge,” “the kind hermit gently offers you a voucher at the Drunken Druid Inn,” “you come across a burnt willow tree, currently still on fire,” “the magical minstrel tells you the parable of the sour,” “you reach the forbidden city of the mud people,” “the blood bathers capture the duke’s wife,” “400 gold crowns goes to you,” and “the maiden thanks you for decimating the juggernaut.”
If “13 Demons” were a TV episode, you would only hear four or five such sentences during one time-lapsed montage setting the scene of these men playing for hours. To stretch the movie, these exchanges go on and on, long after your interest is anxious to move on to other matters.
The ending includes a three-minute sequence of two parties arguing over whether or not “13 Daemons” is a game. I tallied sentences spoken during this debate and, no joke, someone utters a variation of “it’s just a game” 21 times in these three minutes. Someone else then responds, “it’s not a game” 28 times. If this isn’t the mark of movie that has run out of things to say, what is?
A pinch more money and a big boost to the story’s scope wouldn’t necessarily save “13 Demons” from mediocrity. But it might make the film more engaging as escapist entertainment. This attempt takes a big swing and only comes up with just as big of a miss.
Review Score: 35