Self-absorbed socialites pretend to have deep thoughts in this aimless psychodrama.
If young adults were in the practice of playing dress-up as a way of acting out their interpretation of older adult behavior the way children do, it might look exactly like Backgammon, director Francisco Orvañanos’ warm looking and utterly lacking first film. Filled with all the moodiness of a high school theater production and with far less substance, this film about a group of college-ish aged upper-class white folks spending a weekend away at a mansion quickly unravels into a bizarre psychological charade. In its depiction of Lucian (Noah Silver), the charmed college student eager to accept his college buddy’s invitation to his parent’s east coast home, we’re meant to find the face of reason amidst bourgeois drama, but no one acts as irrationally as Lucian as his buddy’s sister Miranda (Brittany Allen) and her snobbish painter boyfriend Gerald (Alex Beh) alienate the remaining guests to the point of departure. Lucian’s decision to stay, beyond rational explanation, is only one of the many mismatched puzzle pieces that make up this confusing novella-inspired film (based on R.B. Russell’s Bloody Baudelaire).
As if in a contest for who can be the most irrational prick of the bunch, the small cast of Backgammon trade unwitty witticisms while having inexplicable access to a huge mansion of which Miranda and Gerald speak as though it’s their own. While downing an unending supply of wine and quoting Baudelaire, Gerald continuously puts down his girlfriend and supposed artistic muse saying such things as “Aren’t all the lovers of great men parasites?” Doing her best impression of a manic mysterious bundle of kittenish mannerisms, Miranda acts offended but broken. Gerald challenges Lucian to a game of cards, which he promptly loses, the winnings of which are all his paintings. Things escalate and Gerald ends up leaving over the dispute and Miranda’s sudden decision to give him the boot. Conveniently, Lucian’s college buddy Andrew (Christian Alexander) decides to head back to school with hardly a single scene under his belt, and to his (not enough) dismay, Lucian’s girlfriend Beth also leaves.
Lucian stays, lured in by Miranda’s particular brand of crazy, and the two of them are soon freaked out as Gerald’s paintings start to change and noises in the house lead them to believe Gerald may not have left after all. If only the supposed suspense inherent in such a scenario were at all utilized. Rather than draw out the suspense by having our characters behave accordingly, Lucian and Miranda have a series of backward conversations about nothing, drink a ton of alcohol and reveal their nonsensical insecurities. Most of this through long quiet scenes with non-conversations where one sentence is rarely followed up with another relating to it. Miranda is a flighty depressive toddler-like host to Lucian’s unbelievable infatuation. The film eventually realizes it should probably move toward some reveal and then beams like a five-year-old as it holds up its finger-painting-level shocker, which, if not predictable, is just plain yawn worthy.
Simon Coull’s cinematography is undeserved, all warm lighting and pore-revealing close-ups, and the camera’s fluid movements combined with the glacial storyline only make it more sleep-inducing. Orvañanos’ film debut needs about four more drafts and a lighter directorial touch. Unfortunately, bizarre does not always equal suspenseful, and as one of the foremost symbolists, one can assume Baudelaire would find the lack of meaningful expression in the film—other than moments where he himself is being quoted—to be quite mundane.