Flesh Games Review: Jackass-Style Found Footage Movie Takes a Dark Turn

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In Flesh Games, a group of wannabe extreme stuntmen reunite to take another shot at stardom, but not everyone is in it for the right reasons.

If you were a certain age when Jackass first became a cultural phenomenon, there’s a small chance you tried making your own comedy stunt show with your friends, especially if you were involved with the skate scene in any capacity, given that it was the genesis of Jackass’ format.

Chances are, you look back on what you made with a hint of nostalgia if you don’t still have the footage, but in my own experience, I can say we completely missed the point and nuance (yes, nuance) of what Johnny Knoxville and company were making. It’s like when people tried to win money on a home video bloopers show; the effort was to make yourself famous rather than doing it because it made you all laugh at how dumb and dangerous it was and the inherent comedic value was greatly diminished. It’s all stunt ideas and little thought about stunt execution.

And that’s the mindset of director David Dawson’s titular failed stunt comedy troupe. Early on in our time with these men from Northern Illinois, we discover they tried before and couldn’t fathom why it failed (though blame definitely gets passed around in off-sketch, on-camera discussions). But years later they’re having another go, and this time, it’ll be different, right?

It’s clear there’s a tragic, pathetic air to these men. A delusion that they’re doing something more than the thing they’re imitating. Off-camera chats help us glean how the main players, Jordan and Mike, feel about each other’s talent in comparison to their own, and this does suggest we’re in for some sort of confrontation down the line.

But to begin with, Flesh Games is an intentionally low-grade Jackass knock-off. Sure, some of the stunts hit the desired levels of crass slapstick and gross-out (the ”Poocasso” bit and a failed attempt to light someone’s arse on fire, for instance), but you can tell when the guys are overselling a stunt or haven’t fully thought through why it would be funny or a spectacle. Jordan is the one most upfront about wanting to be a star in this tape, but once Mike notes Jordan has an ”alcoholic bell curve” that makes him only good at the job with a couple of drinks in him and no more, you see it. Jordan is just a frustrated dreamer and a drunk.

Mike is the one taking charge of creating extreme comedy bits, even if he is applying the ”throw shit at the wall until it sticks” philosophy to it (and thankfully not literally). But Mike’s time on camera is almost never without his excited jabbering and roaring laughter. He’s always ”on”, but as the tape rolls on, Mike’s jovial banter starts to take on a doomy undertone. During a car ride with the cameraman where they have a good laugh about Jordan’s flaky tendencies as Mike fiddles with eh camera. Flipping the view to his own face, he stares transfixed for what feels like an eternity. It’s hard to read him in that moment, but it doesn’t feel like anything good is coming from it.

And that aforementioned promise of a confrontation? Well, Flesh Games does explode in violence so often that it’s hard to see how any faceoff between these failures is going to top what they do to each other for ”fun”, but David Dawson finds a way in a disturbing finale that keeps playing to the bit.

Flesh Games’ biggest crime is that it should be longer. Barely scraping past the hour mark, it could have done with an extra 5-10 minutes to really sell the shift in atmosphere in the finale. Instead, it feels a bit quick to get to the turn, and then spends a little too long on the consequences. On there latter point, I do think that is an intentional choice for the story being told. For spoiler reasons I can’t really go into why, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the point was to take things a step too far narratively.

It doesn’t stop Flesh Games from being a fascinating found footage horror. Using the Jackass-era stunt comedy formula for it is such a smart move, and Dawson has nailed the scuzzy homegrown hardcore punk feel of it.

SCORE: 7/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.

Flesh Games is screening as part of the Unnamed Footage Festival.

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