WARNING: Spoilers ahead
It’s an old premise getting a new twist; a person goes back to the same moment in time in order to change something crucial. In 'Game Over', now streaming on Netflix, programmer Swapna (Tapsee Pannu) is caught in a whirlpool of despair after a traumatic New Year’s Eve experience: she was raped. Almost a year after the incident, she is isolated and with little support except for her caretaker, Kalamma (Vinodhini Vaidyanathan), who doubles as a sort of surrogate mother. She is scared of the dark, frustrated by flashbacks and as the anniversary of THAT night approaches, headed towards suicidal. This is when her tattoo starts to prick and she discovers that she’s being homed in on by a killer.
The targeted time-travel idea has seen a resurgence in the past year or so, with the excellent 'Russian Doll', which grapples with themes of existentialism, and the mostly comical 'Naked', starring Marlon Wayans as a man trying to make it to his own wedding. It wouldn’t be fair however to call 'Game Over' a regurgitation. For one thing, where most storylines employ a loop-like setting that sees characters unable to move forward without making changes, in this case Pannu’s character, Swapna, gets three chances to save her own life and the life of Kalamma. And then, as the title says, it’s ‘Game Over’.
Pannu, who burst into star hood as an emotionally-wrought young woman in 'Pink', doesn’t disappoint with her realistic responses to situations; a vein throbbing out of fear, a dark helplessness, a survivor’s fortitude. But while body language can add a lot to a character, it is not enough to save a wounded plot.
The movie, while gripping, seems to have too many threads that don’t quite weave together into a coherent format, leaving you grappling for answers that never come.
First, there’s the question of Swapna's parents, who blame her for the rape while expressing concern. This is not a particularly surprising reaction considering the social milieu the story is set in. Neither is, you would think, her reaction – to avoid them completely and go on the defensive.
Also, when the attempt to end her existence lands her with broken bones, her parents CALL the caretaker in spite of geographical closeness instead of showing up. This, one would assume, would build resentment.
What is astonishing is a 30-second conversation with someone about fighting fate softens her stance towards them. “Let’s go home,” she suddenly declares.
Secondly, there’s an element of the supernatural, which not only may account for her three chances but also why she’s marked for murder. Unfortunately this isn’t fleshed out. Nor is the identity of the killer, who may have slayed someone before.
Finally, it’s a reach to think that even given three tries, a woman with broken bones and much less body weight or fighting credentials figures out that she's stuck in a time loop, takes on an agile death squad, manages to save herself and someone else, and escapes relatively unscathed. Oh and by the end of this she no longer has PTSD, because of course a run-in with a second monster will keep the nightmares of the first one at bay too.
Shot in short sequences with bursts of dream-like flashbacks; the use of VR – as a tool for therapy; the parents’ reaction and the police response are all stacked up in a commentary on society’s ills, practices, superstitions and sins.
All-in-all, the movie is worth a see for its reimagining of an old idea and for its quick telling (it’s only 103-minutes long) – just don’t expect too solid a foundation of logic.
Still, Pannu going from full of fear to killer mode is definitely worth a watch.
'Game Over' is now streaming on Netflix.