War Games (2011)

Our annual series of Halloween-themed reviews returns with a tale of paintball gone very, very wrong

Claiming to be 'inspired by true events [that] occurred on June 5th 1992', War Games tells the story of a group of friends who head out into the wilds one weekend in order to mess around with Airsoft guns (an alternative to paintball that still allows adults to act like little kids playing war, but without the messy stains on their clothes). During the lengthy game, one of the girls from the group goes missing and a search of the local area uncovers a creepy slaughterhouse. Faster than you can yell 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' the youngsters discover that they're being hunted by a psychopathic trio of local ex-soldiers who are playing their own war game - one where the ammo is live and the outsiders are likely to end up dead.

As you can probably tell, War Games isn't the most original chiller to come along in recent times. Despite the shift to a European setting, the main action feels little removed from the traditional teens in the wilderness set-up that has been used time and again in the genre. This wouldn't be too bad if the film at least distinguished itself visually - something you might expect from an award-winning pop video director like Cosimo Alema. But even here the film fails to do anything interesting, apart from a host of post-production colour timing tweaks that render the entire film a dull combination of sepia brown and olive green.

Picture: While I can easily imagine that the rather muddy colour palette could cause some picture issues on DVD, the good news with this Blu-ray release is that Universal's AVC 1.85:1 1080p encode is really rather good. Admittedly, there's not too much variety in the way of colour saturation to deal with (although subtle pockets of colours other than brown and green do pop up from time to time), but the encode's sharpness and detailing give the 1080p visuals a pleasing clarity. It's just a shame that the colour timing also has the unfortunate effect of cripling the black levels, resulting in washed out area of shadow (which can be quite expansive in some sections of the film) that are completely lacking in detail.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack has some fun with positional effects during the early Airsoft combat scenes and generates some pleasing atmospherics that help bring the locations to life, but on the whole there's little here that really grabs you by the throat in the way you might expect. Perhaps the kindest thing to say is that at least the dialogue sounds entirely natural and is picked out cleanly in the mix.
Audio rating: 3/5

Extras: Bonus features aren't exactly overwhelming, but that's hardly a surprise for a low-budget horror-thriller that's gone straight to Blu-ray and DVD. While English isn't his first language, director Cosimo Alema provides an informative, if occasionally faltering, commentary that takes you through the film's production history in a reasonable amount of detail - other like the movie itself, there's nothing particularly revelatory on offer. The other two extras are rather less interesting - the theatrical trailer (2min/1080p) and an animated stills gallery (1min/1080p).
Extras rating: 1/5

We say: The most shocking thing about this new thriller is how monumentally drab and dull it is.

Universal Pictures, All-region Blu-ray, £18 approx, On sale now