Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has us thinking back on other movies about dangerous games, deadly competitions, and blood sports.
Most deadly-contest movies are demonstrations of skill, whether that involves sheer athletic prowess, superior strategic thinking, or a combination of the two. In the bizarre Spanish drama Intacto, however, luck alone determines the winner of each event… except that luck itself, in this context, appears to be a skill, or at least an attribute that can be accrued, bartered, and even stolen. Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (who went on to make the underrated 28 Weeks Later), the film posits an underground circuit of outré tournaments in which the world’s luckiest people compete for stakes that can range from money to amputated digits to their very lives. One such contest has the participants sitting quietly with treacle in their hair, waiting to see upon whose head an enormous flying insect will alight. Another has blindfolded contestants with hands tied behind their backs sprinting at top speed through a dense forest of trees, with the winner being the last one who doesn’t get knocked unconscious by smashing schnoz-first into an elm.
Fiendishly clever and thrillingly imaginative, Intacto works best as a series of WTF set pieces—if you see the movie cold, with no foreknowledge of its premise, it takes quite a while to figure out what the hell is going on. When Fresnadillo strains for significance, pitting his hapless (but not luckless) protagonist (Leonardo Sbaraglia) in a game of Russian roulette against a Holocaust survivor played by the great Max Von Sydow, things get dicey, so to speak. For the most part, though, he’s content to simply wring as many changes as possible on one of the most unusual conceits ever devised. Watching desperate people running around trying to murder each other has nothing on the feeling of disorientation produced by games in which nobody involved has any explicit control over the outcome, and in which the stakes are often not revealed until the time comes for the losers to pay up. In the words of Depeche Mode, singing about the pleasures of BDSM many years ago:
“It’s a lot like life, and that’s what’s appealing.”
Availability: Intacto is available on DVD (which can be obtained through Netflix disc delivery), for rental or purchase from the major digital services, and to stream through Hulu Plus.