Saturday, May 06, 2023

Death’s Roulette, on Paramount+

Compared to the shadowy host who abducted these seven people, U.N. Owen was a model of hospitality in And Then There Were None. At least he was decent enough to murder his guests himself. This unwelcoming mastermind expects them to do it for him. They must choose a victim to kill amongst themselves, but no volunteers, or else. Of course, it is never just one, is it? Clearly, the seven (mostly) strangers are in a heap of trouble in Manolo Cardona’s Death’s Roulette, which is now streaming on Paramount+.

Simon is a cop. Armando is a doctor. Teresa is a flight attendant and Jose is a retiree. As far as they know, they share no connection to Esteban, a powerful industrial, his entitled wife Marta, or their rebellious tree-hugger daughter Lupe. Nevertheless, all seven wake-up groggy, trapped in a drawing room worthy of
Clue, over-looking the ocean. Via an old-timey teletype machine, the unseen host explains the rules. They need to chose a victim. Nobody can offer themselves as a sacrifice, but once the decision is made, the “lottery-winner” must willingly accept his or her fate. If no choice is made, he will kill them all.

The shadowy puppet master has two very lethal lackeys to enforce the rules, as the not-so-magnificent seven quickly learn. He obviously means business, so the guests try to quickly figure out what they have in common, while literally debating the life-and-death issue at-hand.

Death’s Roulette is like a lot of other Christie rip-offs and revenge thrillers, but screenwriters Gavo Amiel, Frank Ariza, and Julieta Steinberg come up with enough fresh wrinkles to keep it interesting. Thesp-director Cardona nicely capitalizes on the claustrophobic setting and atmospheric trappings. This film straddles genre borders, but it probably leans more towards mystery-thriller than horror.

Cardona is also impressively steely as Simon. Maribel Verdu (who co-starred with Cardona in
Now & Then) also chews enough scenery for a telenovela as the privileged and neurotic Marta. Adriana Paz is a twitchy mess (in a good way) as the addiction-stricken Teresa, while both Dagoberto Gama and Juan Carlos Remolina are entertainingly loathsome as Armando and Esteban.

Cardona’s darkly stylish execution maintains the sense of menace and the tension, even when viewers anticipate its twists. If you are in the mood for a movie about people gathered together to get murdered, as their supposedly just comeuppance, Roulette delivers. Frankly, it holds up better than the Knives Out sequel. Recommended for fans of the limited-characters, confined-setting thriller tradition,
Death’s Roulette is now streaming on Paramount+.