Life…can be boring sometimes, let’s not kid ourselves. Between work, or study, or just a dreary kind of morning, some days just sort of drag on. Now, films will tell you a million times over that boredom is tantamount to sin in the world we live, with those bowing to monoty simply unable, or unwilling, to see the beauty in every second of existence. But movies, in essence, are fiction, stories born from reality often mired in the extraordinary, or near implausible serendipity. So how about a different approach? An approach that doesn’t so much lay the human condition bare, as it does grab it by the throat and beat you over the head with it.
Takahata Shun is your fairly typical student, or at least typical of one sub-section. Less than enthusiastic about everything, Shun drifts through the days at a 1:1 pace, never revelling in excitement to send the hours flying. Heck, he even has procrastinatory plans about one day maybe asking his childhood friend out on a date. The quintessential no rush kind of guy, which is fine I suppose…until his teacher explodes. Yep, in a shower of blood, Shun’s teacher is replaced by the creepiest daruma doll you’ve ever seen. As un-luck would have it, this education disrupting horror also has a penchant for murder, via the age old medium of children’s games. Now I’ll admit, red light/green light doesn’t exactly send shivers up the spines of the adolescent, but when one wrong move renders you exactly one head shorter than when you started, you learn to worry.
As with many a horror film before it, As the Gods Will relishes in transforming the inane into truly torturous trials. Twisting simplicity into a demented form of playtime, the film also leans harder into the actual childishness from which it draws. Certain head turning gore fests have asked characters if they would like to play a game, of course with the only viable answers being yes or death. This particular foray into blood splattery does away with the question entirely and presents us with a gaggle of unwilling high schoolers and a menagerie of weird alien things that genuinely enjoy the games they play. I believe it is partly due to this uncomplicated motive that minds are not immediately drawn to questioning who or what these creatures are, rather opening up to the long lost idea that sometimes things are just evil. It’s kind of freeing to just despise a monster via pseudo-permission, without worrying what traumatic event turned the villain on this twisted path. If anything, the name of the film is an apt summary, albeit one that changes between reading it and actually seeing the film.
One thing I rather enjoyed about the film was the inability to discern who would survive. Sure, horror movies dangle the bait that anyone could fall victim to the villain, but you can usually gather who will live to see another day. As the Gods Will efforts to pull this rug out from under you by feeding off your assumptions that a game is over, and we all know what they say about assumptions…although this particular iteration of that belief certainly has a lot more liquification. The film also strives to complicate character relationships, forcing you to alter your opinions and therefore your predictions on who, if anyone, will survive.
Now, despite my previous statement about not desperately caring about the origins of villainy, the film did fall a touch short in explaing certain plot threads, namely, the shut in with possible delusions of grandeur. Despite netting a few brief scenes, this character never goes anywhere, rather he seems to exist solely for the purpose of referencing a possible sequel. Now I’m all for continuing a story, but this particular example was a bit to brazen for my tastes. Maybe if we had at least seen where this character’s loyalties lie, or what exactly got him so excited, then I would have felt more comfortable with his jaunt into a future story. But we didn’t, so I wasn’t.
Visually speaking, the film was Takeshi Miike all over. Screaming, violence and more blood than you could shake a very large bucket at. It certainly drives home just how much peril the characters are in when one or more is reduced to a puddle with hair. It is not a pretty picture. However, the most interesting effect of violence is found in the films first deadly game. Rather than explode entirely into that oh so gory red liquid, the unfortunate losers of said game rather forcefully turn into a bundle of red glass marbles. Unique to this film, at least in my experience, it allowed a truly horrific scene to be dialled back whilst still retaining its confronting visual form. I feel that if the floor was covered in blood during the opening sequence, as opposed to (a ludicrous amount of) red marbles, attentions would have been drawn away from the characters themselves. It would also seem that gratuitous marble explosions also makes for some rather interesting sound design. Who knew?
Ultimately, As the Gods Will is an interesting film. Though certainly a horrific tale, it leans uniquely into the immaturity and comedy of its premise. Now, whether this lightens the film or simply causes the darker moments to hit all that much harder is really up to personal opinion. Some may relish the insanity, whilst others may subconciously back away from it. Personally, if the story strung amidst the non-central characters is to be listened to, there is a great deal more story to be told here. Though the games might need to be altered some, if I see one more daruma doll with its eyes stapled open, I might just…I don’t know, but I sure am glad this is fiction. Though not one that paints the gods in a positive light, that’s for damn sure.