A Cool Location Can’t Save The Bunker Game

The Bunker Game - Photo Credit: Shudder

I’m a bit of a sucker for Escape Room and play-or-die movies. When The Bunker Game showed up on Shudder’s monthly announcement, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. However, the promotions I watched all week on social media had me revved up for the film. Maybe it was the generic rock music. Maybe it was the very Last Night in Soho moment with Meander’s Gaia Weiss’ face looking into Serena de Ferrari’s face through a mirror. The images in the trailer got me on board to the point where I forgot about the initial doubts I had after reading the synopsis. 

Most play or die films are reality-based. The Escape Room films have mired their tone in corporate conspiracies, while others set themselves in Sawstyled rooms which is also a play-or-die experience when you think about it—and very few go supernatural. The only one I’ve seen adding paranormal elements was a tv movie called No Escape Room, which landed in the mediocre territory. The Bunker Game’s trailer looked like it was making great use of the play-or-die trope in an original setting while using elements that aren’t typical of horror. The synopsis had said the characters were LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) in an abandoned bunker. What they don’t tell you is that they’re LARPing as nazis.  

Laura's face is pressed against a mirror in The Bunker Game
The Bunker Game – Photo Credit: Shudder

Ok, if this is the storyline you’re going with, fine. The backstory is that the Germans have won World War II, and this bunker the LARPers live in is the last sect of humanity after the fallout from atomic weapons. The atmosphere in the bunker is strange, with the LARP group itself being inclusive in a place that is not. A black wheelchair-bound propagandist (Makita Samba) spreads misinformation through the bunker. A nazi soldier (Tudor Istodor) leans into his role by blatantly analyzing the character’s weaknesses before reprimanding a trans character (Felice Jankell). The first act of violence comes in the form of a gas chamber, as we learn of a rebel insurgency growing within the bunker during the initial scenes.

It’s an interesting premise. However, if we’re being liberal with history, why have these characters decided to play a game aligned with the reprehensible side of history in the first place? I continued to watch with less commitment. I wanted to know where this was going, but there was rising concern about my faith in the film’s concept.  

Last year I played a video game called Paradise Lost with a similar premise about a boy wandering through a German bunker to survive the harsh exteriors of a post-WWII nuclear winter. The game was conceptually vast, with varying levels in the underground world representing the creature comforts of society. The Bunker Game doesn’t exactly have that expansive presence, but I saw plenty of similarity in what the movie was trying to do. The hard part is there isn’t a whole lot more going on for it, and as it gets into the freaky stuff (and I mean that in all senses of the word), it just gets weird and has trouble explaining itself.  

An SS officer faces forward next to a man in a wheelchair in The Bunker Game
The Bunker Game – Photo Credit: Shudder

The Bunker Game doesn’t tell you what’s happening right away. It intros with a collage of revised historical events that have Americans dropping nukes over Germany held Europe and forcing the narrative of European retreat to an underground shelter built by Mussolini. The video also tells us that these people were selected to live in the Bunker, which rules out a lot of probable dissidence. We never know our characters are LARPing until Laura (Weiss) has a nightmare, and a masked man in a white hazmat suit looms beside her in the restroom. Gregorio (Marco Polo’s Lorenzo Richelmy) and Laura make things steamy and inject a bit of sexual asphyxiation into the plotline, which was another odd flex, but who am I to judge.  

Laura’s dream and the stalker’s presence provide a tediousness for cheap scare tactics. Let me throw this out there. I love a good jumpscare. For as much of a mess as it was, Netflix’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre knew how to bring sound and visual editing, music, and direction together to prove that jump scaring is an art form. The Bunker Game’s scares are oddly benign and lackluster, and the more I tried to find a reason why I thought that, the more I came back to simply not enjoying the characters.

The acting itself is fine, the actors do their best with what they’ve been given, but the character development in the script is thin, likely because we’re essentially watching a diegetic performance during the exposition. Character qualities have to be seared onto their roles in the LARP. As Gregorio tells Laura about the ending of the LARP he’s so proud of, we realize the fantasy transpiring but rarely get glimpses into our actual cast apart from who they’re supposed to represent. That itself also presents an opportunity, especially for characters playing SS officers, to redeem their game-fueled actions, but their parts were ostensibly picked based on the boring, obvious nature of who they actually are.  

Robin looks up while holding a phone receiver to her ear in The Bunker Game
The Bunker Game – Photo Credit: Shudder

After telling Laura about his ending, Gregorio wanders off to prepare for it, but something goes wrong, setting alarms off inside the location. The LARP comes to an abrupt end, and only the prominent characters stay to clean up the place. Laura begins receiving ghostly vibrations as she becomes linked with a previous inhabitant of the bunker (Ferrari)—which generates a plethora of questions by itself—because they are/were both pregnant. The supernatural aspect of the film would be sufficient if the film decided to stay in one lane. I was expecting demonic nazis or something, honestly, oddly testing your limits of plausibility and indifference.

Somehow, The Bunker Game becomes even sillier as the remaining LARPers split off Scooby-Doo style, meeting their fates autonomously until we arrive at an ending that really makes you wonder what the hell kind of drugs the writers were doing. One scene I just stopped and laughed at was a shower scene featuring gratuitous nudity. It makes no sense because it happens in the middle of everyone being picked off, but Laura feels safe enough to take a shower. I mean, seriously, real LARPers could write you a better script. The ending provides a real curveball that will have you questioning a large portion of the film’s story.  

As ridiculous as The Bunker Game is, I only wish it were more fun. Occasionally, the film made me think fondly about Xavier Gens’ mixed-bag Frontier(s)—also currently on Shudder—which has its moments in a neo-nazi family’s hidden underground lair. So much of The Bunker Game is stagnant and lifeless with nothing much happening until about the hour mark. I can’t help but think what a waste of potential the movie is, squandering the fantastic location and captivating alternate historical angle. The movie is poorly paced and wildly unconcise, and the worst part, it’s not even a play-or-die film! Whoever cut the film’s trailer deserves an award because it makes the movie look ten times more exciting than the product. 

The Bunker Game is now available on Shudder. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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