“HOW DO YOU CATCH A KILLER WHEN HE’S HOLDING ALL THE CARDS!!!”
With the obscene amount of straight-to-DVD shoddy stereotype-conforming horror films like Mr Jingles and Dark Harvest 3 out there it’s far too easy to miss the hidden gems. Some films that could turn out to be classics if they got the attention they deserved often slip under the radar. 2014’s Poker Night could be one of those rare hits if only more people knew about it.
Released in 2014, Poker Night is the writing and directing feature debut of Greg Francis, whose prior work had been in crime television. It received a score of 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, but this came from only 8 reviews. Most of the critics were impressed with Francis’ directing, however.
Poker Night incorporates a modern realistic social occasion and the whole film revolves around this. Of course, it’s the poker night that young cop Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) attends where he plays cards and socialises with veterans who tell him tales of their policing pasts. Because the social aspect of a household poker game with friends is prevalent in today’s society, it adds a serious level of realism and sets the gritty tone of the film well.
Young audiences who like to play Texas Hold’em in online poker rooms will be able to relate to this film, as well as older fans of the game who may be more familiar with the round-the-table scenario with friends. Because of the worldwide popularity of poker, it’s slightly odd that this film didn’t attract larger audiences.
The poker night isn’t the main plot of the film, though, instead it keeps circling back to that event as the protagonist thinks about ways he can overcome the vicious serial killer who has held him captive. He uses the stories told to him by the veteran poker players to conjure a plan to escape from the psychopath’s clutches.
For a film that went straight to video on demand, Poker Night boasts some fairly well-known actors. It features the outstanding Ron Perlman from Sons of Anarchy and Hellboy, and the equally dazzling Giancarlo Esposito, best known for his portrayal of Gustavo Fring in Breaking Bad. The two actors certainly bring a credibility to the film that isn’t often found in these limited-release titles. One major criticism of the film has been that these veteran actors are far more interesting than the film’s lead protagonist.
Just like a game of poker, the film is absolutely packed full of twists and turns, and like any good horror or thriller should, keeps viewers on their toes until the bitter end. The problem that some critics have noted is that although it sets up some strong tension early on, the film fails to maintain the same intensity throughout.
Although the psycho kidnapping scenario isn’t that original, Poker Night has some unique elements that sets it apart from the standard slasher film. The focus on the card game and the knowledge acquired from it is one of those elements. Perhaps if this film had gained more attention, it would have been a hit in today’s poker-obsessed society.