BLACK’S GAME

When petty criminal Stebbi (Thor Kristjansson) does a favour for childhood friend Tóti (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), the two are drawn into the fold of a well-organized but violent gang intent on taking over Iceland’s bustling drug trade. Nicknamed “Psycho” after almost beating a man to death during a drug retrieval operation, Stebbi quickly moves up in the organization as he helps strong-arm the current complacent kingpins off the streets of Reykjavik. Basking in the cash influx and the romantic attentions on the gang’s coke-addled female member Dagný (María Birta), Stebbi’s world nevertheless begins to fall apart when Tóti starts doing business with Bruno (Damon Younger), a sadistic underworld figure who disrupts the gang’s well-planned activities with needlessly risky crimes and violent reprisals against anyone who disagrees with his methods. When Stebbi is contacted by a special police unit that reveals they have been tracking his every movement for months, he must decide whether to betray his dangerous new friends and risk Bruno’s wrath or spend the rest of his life in jail.

“Based on some shit that actually happened,” reads the opening title card to this slickly produced and fast-paced Scandinavian crime movie. Set in 1999 on the eve of the biggest drug bust in the country’s history, Oskar Thor Axelsson’s debut feature quickly became one of Iceland’s most profitable movies ever made. Channeling flashes of Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction as well as the classic Danish trilogy Pusher (whose director, Nicolas Winding Refn, serves as Axelsson’s executive producer), Black’s Game delves into the distinctive challenges of Iceland’s close-knit criminal community, from bank robbers to smugglers to junkies and enforcers as they struggle for existence.

Amongst the film’s sprawling cast, Damon Younger is particularly demonic as the unstable and unpredictable Bruno, whose every decision seems poised to send the gang into chaos. Still, the film really belongs to Thor Kristjansson’s tragic portrayal of Stebbi, who takes viewers on a paranoid, drug-fueled journey through Reykjavic’s dance clubs, backalleys and abandoned factories as he finds himself increasingly unable to extract himself from the bloody power struggle unfolding before his eyes. Dripping with brutality and fin-de-siècle atmosphere, this is a game in which there are far more losers than winners, but it’s still well worth playing.

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BLACK’S GAME has its North American Premiere on August 1 at 9:45pm in the Hall Theatre. More info on the film page HERE.

 

About the author:

Kier-La Janisse

Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, Editor-in-Chief of Spectacular Optical Publications, founding director of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies and the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005). She has written for Incite: Journal of Experimental Media, Filmmaker, Offscreen, Shindig!, Rue Morgue and Fangoria magazines, has contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), and is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012). She recently co-edited and published the anthology books KID POWER! (Spectacular Optical, 2014) about kids in cult film and television and Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s. She is currently working on the book A Song From the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time about children’s programming from 1965-1985.

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