Want to elevate your horror game and raise the stakes on fun and frights? These films about high risk and reward are a sure bet.
Terrifying films about deadly games are incredibly popular. In films like Saw, Cube, Battle Royale, The Belko Experiment, Ready or Not, and The Hunt — the players are unwilling and unwitting participants who find themselves pawns in the sadistic game of some master manipulator.
Sometimes, however, players are there by choice. Often, they are lured into the treacherous, high-stakes gameplay under false pretenses. They are typically promised massive sums of money but aren’t fully aware of the risks. They don’t know the lengths they will have to go to to win or just how serious the consequences of losing will be.
The 2021 South Korean series and Netflix megahit Squid Game exploited the always-compelling concept of desperate people who find themselves in a nearly unwinnable game of life and death.
Games of risk and reward are alluring. We love the adrenaline rush from knowing something valuable (usually money) is at stake and the thrill of beating the odds and winning big. It’s what makes gambling and online casinos like the Slotoro Online Casino so popular and thrilling. But when the “something” at stake is our lives, it stops being a game and starts becoming an exercise in extreme terror.
These three lesser-known deadly game films will have you on the edge of your seat and asking yourself what you’d do for a life-changing sum of money.
1. Would You Rather (2012)
Based on a popular party game, Would You Rather puts a brutal psychological twist on the game of choices.
Iris (played by the always excellent Brittany Snow, X) is a young woman desperate to find a way to afford her brother’s very expensive leukemia treatment. Their oncologist introduces her to a wealthy philanthropist, Shepard Lambrick (none other than genre icon Jeffrey Combs, Re-Animator), who offers her a nearly impossible-to-refuse deal. If she wins a dinner party game hosted by Shepard, he will pay for her brother’s treatment and use his foundation’s influence to find a bone marrow donor.
When Iris arrives, she discovers several other contestants, including Shephard’s son, a war veteran, a paralyzed elderly woman, a gambling addict, and an alcoholic debtor.
From the jump, the game starts out questionable, but the stakes get significantly higher as it goes along. Shephard begins by testing their principles, offering the contestants money for compromising choices. Iris reluctantly accepts $10,000 to eat meat despite being a vegetarian, and Conway accepts $50,000 to drink a decanter of Scotch as a recovering alcoholic.
Eventually, Shepard reveals that the game is deadly, and only the last one standing will win the big cash prize.
In the end, there is indeed a winner. But in a game like this, there are really only losers.
This criminally underrated gem ends with a nasty twist that reminds us what we risk when we gamble with our souls.
2. The Box (2009)
While we’re on the subject of difficult moral quandaries, I present another vastly underrated cinematic treasure in the form of 2009’s The Box, starring A-listers Cameron Diaz and James Marsden.
Written and directed by Richard Kelly, adapted from the short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson (a story previously adapted into an episode of The Twilight Zone), the film centers around a couple — Norma (Diaz) and Arthur (Marsden) — who receive a box from a mysterious man (played by Frank Langella) who offers them one million dollars if they press the button sealed within the dome on top of the box.
Of course, however, there’s a catch — and it’s a big one. Once the button has been pushed, someone they do not know will die.
The couple argue over the lucrative but troubling offer, complicated by their difficult financial situation. They open the box to discover it is “just a bunch of wood,” and they go to sleep without reaching a decision. The next day, Norma takes a risk and impulsively pushes the button, whispering, “It’s just a box.”
Mr. Steward arrives and presents Arthur and Norma with the $1 million, assuring them that someone did indeed die as a result of their actions and that the same offer will be presented to someone else they do not know.
This haunting morality tale is suspenseful, intriguing, and impressively executed.
Smart and sinister, it will make you think long and hard about human nature and profound ethical dilemmas.
3. Cheap Thrills (2013)
I will never stop singing the praises of the 2013 black comedy thriller Cheap Thrills, and I wish more people were turned on to how great this film is.
Directed by E.L. Katz in his directorial debut, the film follows two friends competing in a series of challenges worth different amounts of money given by a rich couple.
Craig (Pat Healy, Killers of the Flower Moon) is an auto mechanic who lost his job and can’t pay his rent. While at a dive bar trying to drown his sorrows, he runs into an old friend from high school, Vince (Ethan Embry, The Devil’s Candy). After their reunion, they meet a rich couple, Colin (David Koechner, Krampus) and Violet (Sara Paxton, The Innkeepers). The couple offers the men money in return for completing certain tasks to entertain Violet, as it is her birthday.
The tasks start out relatively benign and quickly ramp up to far more dangerous for larger and larger sums of money.
Tensions between the men begin to arise as the stakes are raised. Eventually, things spiral toward their inevitable, devastating conclusion, and we learn the true extent of the casual malice behind the evening’s high-risk activities.
It’s wildly fun, often hilarious, deliciously mean-spirited, and a masterclass in the worst-case scenario resulting from the intersection of desperation, machismo, and entitlement.