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'Gatlopp' Is a Terrible Name for a Great Little Movie

By Nate Parker | Film | August 8, 2022 |

By Nate Parker | Film | August 8, 2022 |


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Sometimes, when your friend is going through a bad breakup, the best thing to do is call up a few buddies, open a few beers, and play a classic drinking game. That’s what Cliff (Jon Bass, Miracle Workers, Super Pumped) decides to do for his best friend Paul (Jim Mahoney, The Orville) during a rough divorce. College pals and former couple Sam (Emmy Raver-Lampman, Umbrella Academy) and Troy (Sarunas J. Jackson, Made for Love) reluctantly round out the foursome and they play a round of Gatlopp, an old-timey drinking game Cliff found while buying a secondhand credenza. But the game changes as they play, and it’s not long before the four friends must choose between honesty and eternal damnation.

You’re not wrong if you’re picturing a low-budget, adult version of the classic Jumanji. Available for rental on Amazon Prime and On Demand, Gatlopp’s trailer didn’t grab me until a glimpse of the game board triggered an old memory. I loved drinking games in my teens and 20s, when hangovers didn’t feel like lingering death. My friend group preferred Asshole to Kings or beer pong, but we’d try anything. We played for hours with glasses of JD or Beam over Coke, trusting caffeine to balance out all the whiskey. It never worked, but we kept trying for science. One afternoon, while hunting up a secondhand computer desk in a low-end antique\junk store, I opened a random drawer and found a 1971 board game called Pass-Out.

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We played that night. Some of us survived. Pass-Out was true to its name and solely designed to mess. you. up. If games like this were popular in the ’70s, it’s a miracle any drinkers made it out alive. I don’t know how anyone got laid at key parties. It’s impossible to make it a full game without getting wrecked, and a full bladder besides. I held onto it for the novelty value. Maybe one day my kids will discover it and it’ll cause more great bad decisions.

Gatlopp is Pass-Out with the ability to bend time and space to its will. When a card instructs Cliff to tell off a person from his past, he selects a woman who humiliated him as a teen only for her to appear in his shower. The game knows when you lie, and false answers prompt physical retribution. Soon all four friends are forced to confront their past together, their lies and hurtful actions, the words unsaid, and the things they never should have said at all. Paul, the gimbal on which the game pivots, is played with feverish exhaustion by Jim Mahoney, who wrote the script. He also wrote Klaus, one of the best new Christmas movies to come out of the streaming services in the last few years. Gatlopp has a similar embrace of the unknown; one of the film’s strengths is Mahoney’s refusal to explain how the game works. It just does, and once his characters understand their predicament they don’t waste time trying to figure out the why. Mahoney’s writing is better than his acting, but he still plays up Paul’s cynicism and hurt just right. What would be an effects-driven blockbuster in the hands of a major studio is here a character piece with the backdrop of eternal damnation. It’s got a mid-90s Kevin Smith vibe, which is always a plus in my book.

Jon Bass and Sarunas J. Jackson are both great in their roles. Jackson’s chill attitude masks a well of insecurity and he’s excellent at mimicking a friend’s mannerisms during a body swap scene. He bears a lot of responsibility for once-close friends drifting apart, even if the others don’t know it. Bass, meanwhile, is so relatable it hurts. He’s desperate to hold this little family together because they’re all he has. More than any of the others he remains in the past, still living in the same place, still hanging onto all the old memories. The instigator, the fifth wheel, the odd man out, his desire to bring everyone back together is balanced by a healthy fear of ruining what friendship remains.

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But it’s Emmy Raver-Lampman’s performance that floored me. Confession time; I can’t stand Allison Hargreeves. I think I’m supposed to feel empathy because she lost custody of the daughter she brainwashed into eating her vegetables and going to sleep, but I don’t. More than any of her adopted siblings, Allison is a spoiled mess whose pain and desires always come first. Plus, her hair is almost always terrible. Are they deliberately putting her in bad wigs? Either way, her character aggravates the hell out of me. But as Sam, Raver-Lampman shines. For one thing, her hair is much better. Like Allison, she’s wrapped up in her own affairs, a successful producer obsessed with controlling every situation. It feels at first like she’s treading over old ground until she begins to open up to her friends, and she and Troy work out their shit. But it’s a truly powerful confessional moment that caught me completely off guard that will stick with me for a long, long time. Raver-Lampman dialed up the intensity to 11 in less time than it takes to type, and my jaw dropped. My breath caught in my throat. I found myself holding back tears at what felt like genuine catharsis. And as soon as it was over, I bought the movie. Forget the low budget. Forget the cheap effects. Raver-Lampman, Mahoney, and first-time feature director Alberto Belli captured a perfect 3 minutes of film I want to watch again and again.

With natural dialogue, comedy, and an atmosphere that makes the viewer feel like we’re watching old friends, Gatlopp is more than a weird name for the drinking game from Hell. It’s a reminder of all the game nights that ended in laughter or tears, in love or anger, the molehills that grew into mountains. Better nights? Probably not. But simpler ones. Gatlopp tells us we can grow up without growing apart. And everyone needs to act the fool now and then. Maybe one of these “Sophisticated Party Games” can help you do just that.

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