Based upon writer/co-star Blake Merriman's off-Broadway play "Dorm," the Ryan Gielen helmed frat house-based psychological thriller Drinking Games is set to arrive on home video on August 20th with indie distrib Believe Limited.
Drinking Games is a horrifying film that gets its painful anxiety and thrills from its deceptive normalcy. The film takes place on the final night of the fall semester, a night with alcohol flowing and parties raging across campus. In the dorm, Richard (Blake Merriman) and Shawn (Nick Vergara) are arguing over what to do with Noopie (Rob Bradford), a charismatic upperclassman currently passed out on their dorm room floor. After a blizzard seals them inside their dorm with a small group of similar misfits, Noopie uses drugs, booze, and sex to manipulate everyone into dancing closer and closer to their emotional and physical breaking points.
Many directors have tried to capture the edgy vulnerability and cross-eyed innocence that defines the campus experience, but most have ended up creating one-note, paint-by-number films with stock characters and predictable stories. Drinking Games, on the other hand, is the kind of film that works precisely because it taps into the almost mundane college existence and tosses into the mix a psychological hand grenade.
Of course, it helps that Drinking Games is cast perfectly down to even its most minor roles. Rob Bradford is frighteningly revelatory as Noopie, a guy who is so charismatic that he's sunk his claws into you long before you've ever realized it. Bradford's Noopie may be most disturbing because he comes off as so incredibly normal until you start to realize that maybe, just maybe, he's not. As Noopie plays out, you're simultaneously appalled and compelled while also realizing that you knew someone just like this during your college days.
Merriman's Richard and Vergara's Shawn are equally as compelling, two young men believably friendly yet starkly different in fairly significant ways. In their own unique ways, both Merriman and Vergara embody the two as awkward young men fumbling their ways through social development and in many ways ill-equipped to deal with someone like Noopie or, for that matter, most people. While Richard and Shawn could have so easily become one-note characters, Merriman and Vergara instead create layered and complex characters whose stories matter to us so much that everything that unwinds becomes that much more chilling.
Among the supporting players, Katy Wright-Mead and Riccarda Natalie are particularly stellar but, in all honesty, there's not a weak performance among the entire ensemble.
D.P. Andrew Rivara's lensing weaves together intimacy, blackness and an element of fantasy that is jarring yet mesmerizing, while kudos must be given for Peter Calciano's mesmerizing art direction and, in a rarity for an indie pic, Kimberly Karel's costuming really helps set the tone for each character's inevitable journey.
What really makes Drinking Games such a memorable film is that Gielen, the award-winning director of Turtle Hill Brooklyn and The Graduates, and first-time screenwriter Merriman so clearly understand that lasting horror and true psychological thrills and chills are derived from the vulnerabilities and fractures within humanity. Drinking Games doesn't play for the drama, because it doesn't have to play for the drama.
Real life? That's scary.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic