J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tribeca ’12: Rat King

Hardcore gamer Juri needs to get a life and some sun. He is starting to lose touch with those closest to him. Instead he gets a double to help him play his most challenging game yet. This leads to complications in Petri Kotwica’s Rat King (trailer here), which screens during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, now officially underway in festive New York City.

Juri does not even know what his two best friends look like. They are gaming buddies he met online. Unfortunately, after logging-off from their last first-person shooter outing, they have maintained eerie internet silence, disturbing Juri no end. Suddenly, Niki shows up in the flesh. Evidently, his two comrades got involved with a game of a more ominous sort. Now their mutual pal is dead and Niki is in hiding. Yet, like the hopeless addict he is, Juri cannot resist logging into the sinister program.

Niki agrees to help Juri navigate the game, in exchange for secretly sheltering him. Rather than a video game, it is more of an online RPG that demands Juri, or Rat King as he has been dubbed, perform a series of real world tasks, which quickly escalate into rather dangerous territory. Meanwhile, Niki takes Juri’s place in the offline life he has been ignoring. After all, one pale geeky high school student is as good as another, right?

Rat King cleverly plays on a lot of the fears and paranoia of the gamer subculture. It is also perfectly cast, co-starring Max Ovaska and Julius Lavonen, two well established young Finnish actors who really could pass for twins. However, it rashly barges into some treacherous ground when the plot turns toward a potential Columbine incident, inviting comparisons to films like Tetsuya Nakashima’s brilliant Confessions, but lacking comparable gravitas and power.

Still, Finnish thriller specialist Kowica skillfully pulls viewers into this noir world, insidiously building the tension. Ovaska and Lavonen are both quite good as the doppelganger-gamers, credibly looking and acting like high school kids that are a bit off.

It seems fitting that John Badham’s WarGames, the grandfather of all out of control online game movies, will also have a ticketed retrospective screening at this year’s Tribeca, because the two films would make an intriguing pairing. While not a classic, Rat King it is a solid meat-and-potatoes thriller executed with a fair degree of style. Recommended for gamers and those who frequently lose patience with them, Rat King screens again tonight (4/20) and the following Friday (4/27) as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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