Reality and fantasy merge to create a battlefield of horror in 13 Demons (2016), in which three game-obsessed friends acquire “13 Demons,” a long-banned board game that consists of killing demons in a medieval setting. As they play the game, however, their grasp on reality slowly unwinds into a chaotic spiral of murder and delusion.
13 Demons finds strength in its cast and its fun, retro atmosphere. The three main actors (Stephen Grey, Michael Cunningham, and Daniel E. Falicki, the latter of whom also serves as the film's writer and director) take command of their characters through their convincing performances as geeky, mild-mannered game enthusiasts who transform into passionate and sinister medieval warriors. While the evolution of these characters had the potential to be flimsy, the cast shines with their depiction of a gradual and distinct descent into insanity. The Dungeons & Dragons/Jumanji vibe that pervades the film lends a smart twist of nostalgia, which is heightened by the psychedelic intensity of the colorful, pulsing imagery within the in-game hallucinations. The minor bits of humor that are sprinkled in between moments of heightening tension are integrated smoothly, and add a bit of depth.
While 13 Demons succeeds in visual appeal and authentic performances, the plot and pacing lack the same level of entertainment. While the film has an intriguing premise, the slow pacing and sporadic bursts of action significantly hinder the momentum. One of the climactic scenes (without giving away spoilers) gets a bit repetitive, and leads to an abrupt ending of the film (although the abrupt ending may serve as a segue into a sequel).
Overall, 13 Demons is worth a watch due to its interesting premise and solid cast, but needs more fine-tuning in order to reach its full potential.