Finals are over and most students have left for their winter break. A few students remain in a mix gender dorm and while a snow storm blows in those remaining students get ready to celebrate Snowmageddon. A annual party thrown on the last day that welcomes the winter weather and allows the kids to let loose. However, friends and roommates are at odds as Richard wants no part of it while Shawn wants their room to be a party room. Richard looks like he's going to have his way until upperclassman Noopie hijacks their room and turns it into party central. As the night carries on things begin to spiral out of control and soon one simple night turns into a life changing event for these kids.
"Drinking Games" is the cinematic transition for Blake Merriman's off-Broadway show "Dorm". The writer and co-star brings his stark-comedic vision of a party night in a dorm room from play to film with the help of director Ryan Gielen. It's easy to see why Merriman's story would work on the stage -- a character study affixed to a single location -- but can the concept work as a movie? Spoiler alert: it does.
With finals over and students having left for their winter break, the remaining students in a mixed gender dorm find themselves snowed in during a blizzard and that can mean only one thing: Snowmageddon! The annual tradition of the entire dorm throwing a party to unwind shouldn't be a big deal but it becomes a life changing night for long time friends Richard and Shawn as upperclassman, Noopie, tries to drag them down into the very dark side of college partying. Shawn is all more than willing to dive headfirst into Noopie's world of drinking, drugs and sex but Richard has more on his mind and is focused on finishing his term paper and settling things with his friend, Melanie. Too bad for everyone that Noopie is going to have a party, even if it kills them.
"Drinking Games" is one of those quite indie films that snuck up on me -- I didn't know about it until I received the screener -- and it surprised me with an incredible dark story of what is nothing short of a typical day for the college (university) crowd. The idea of a movie being focused on a handful of characters in a dorm room seemed rather restricting yet "Drinking Games" takes it's minimalist nature and made a movie that builds an uncomfortable level of tension and anxiety.
It does so because the concept of the movie never strays from reality. Now this movie is not a morality lesson and it most certainly embraces its cinematic nature with slick production quality for a low-budget movie and features some notable cinematography. However, the drama within "Drinking Games" felt like it came naturally from a portrayal of realistic characters -- the naive freshmen and a charismatic sociopath who doesn't care about what he destroys as long as he gets what he wants -- they are people we know or are whether we've attended an institution of higher-learning or not. Like most things in life, everything seems relatively normal, even harmless, but slowly the darkness creeps in, desire rules out common sense and before these characters can say no, they are heading down a dangerous and destructive path.
While no character can really claim innocence, outside of Richard and Melanie, there's no sense of villainy -- the downward spiral of the characters does in fact come from the environment college presents. Even Noopie, while a dick and a complete tool, doesn't seem that bad in the beginning (but he's still a complete dick) but being "young and dumb" he manages to create a black-hole affect in a tiny dorm room. As bad decisions are made, and more substances are introduced, that tension mounts as you wait for things to explode. In that waiting for things to inevitable get worse, and beginning to understand the core characters, that tension builds even more because now you want certain things to happen even though there is only one possible outcome.
That's what drove my attention in the movie. "Drinking Games" isn't necessarily going for realism but it approaches the concept, plot and characters in a realistic fashion. It doesn't play out like an after school special where we all (the characters and the viewers) come out as better people when it's over. It feels more like a viewing of a psychological study. What happens when certain elements are added into a confined space. The results: an unbelievably dark character piece with heavily tense atmosphere. I wasn't white-knuckling my couch but "Drinking Games" did hold my attention as I wanted to see how far Noopie was going to drag a bunch of naive freshmen down into the pits and just how destructive he was going to be on their lives.
I think Blake Merriman (along with everyone else) did an excellent job of turning a play into a movie. No easy task, I'm sure. It's a very interesting character study that maintains a sense of realism while still remaining as a traditional movie. The characters are believable, the concept/story is interesting and well executed and the movie serves as a decent psychological-esque piece. While labeled as a dark-comedy, and there are some amusing moments, the movie weighs far more into the dark portion and builds on that throughout the runtime. At the very least, it helped in making a good character study even better with slow burning tension.