We’re always eager to see new takes on the horror genre here, so this film from 2014 stood out as one we needed to clear from our backlog. But did we miss out on a hidden gem in the genre or is it better off forgotten?
Poker Night (known as The Joker to UK fans) starts as a right of passage for a young detective; being invited to the veteran’s poker night. It turns out, however, that the game night is mostly an excuse to get together and share horror stories from their time on the police force.
The gang gathers around and tries to scare off the newbie, Stan (played by Beau Mirchoff) with stories of how they solved different murder cases. It feels like needless padding and world-building until Stan finds himself imprisoned alongside a young woman and must use the stories his fellow poker players have told him to find a way for them both to escape.
Despite being one of the most popular games in the world, poker is seldom the focus of horror films. Other than the 2019 horror film Cry for the Bad Man and upcoming Russell Crowe feature Poker Face, the two don’t mix often. The characters are playing No-limit Texas Hold’em, which is unsurprising but still strategic for the film. It is one of the more popular versions of the game that gained notoriety in the early 00s with the rise of online poker sites. The rules aren’t really explained in the movie but poker serves more as a vehicle to allow the more senior detectives to share their stories than as a focus of the film.
Unfortunately, the poker itself might be the most interesting part of Poker Night. While we love a bit of non-linear storytelling and using it to lay down nuggets that will be used later in the film, it isn’t really used to great effect here. They were aiming for something of a Pulp Fiction feel to the movie but ended up falling well short of that movie by the end. The movie is tropey and tries too hard to be clever. Not even a solid cast and a fun villain are enough to salvage Poker Night from the realm of forgettable.
That isn’t to say that the film isn’t without merit. The cast, including the effortlessly intimidating Ron Perlman, brings the script to life in a way that the writer couldn’t quite manage. Still, all the best performances in the world won’t save a movie that is more style over substance. Fans of 90s thrillers will notice several stylistic choices that might have been better left in a bygone era. However, it never manages to reach the heights of the films it is trying so hard to emulate.
Poker fans might not find what they are looking for in Poker Night, but, unfortunately, we doubt that movie fans will either. This might be one to fold on rather than hold onto, we’re afraid.
Rating: 1 out of 5