Cult Horror Corner: The Card Player
The fundamental problem with making a film centred around technology is that the film is guaranteed to look incredibly dated as soon as new technology is invented. Never has this been more evident than in Dario Argento’s The Card Player, a thriller that mostly takes place around chat rooms and online poker games. Though it was only released in 2004, The Card Player already looks like a cheap straight-to-video release from the early nineties; sadly for Argento, the same year as his film which revolved around chatrooms (a fairly modern idea), Facebook was launched, and the whole idea of the film became outdated.
Ever since the late eighties/early nineties, Argento has been on a slump, and though The Card Player doesn’t reach the lows of his worst work, it’s altogether a fairly weak film, with a solid first half giving way to a terrible second. Italian detective Anna Mari (the decent Stefania Rocca) is messaged by a serial killer, who gives her the chance to play an online game of poker; if she loses, a young woman will be murdered on webcam. After a failed game and a murder victim on the streets, Irish detective John Brennan (the reliable Liam Cunningham) is brought in, and the pair has to race against the clock to find the killer.
Though the poker games themselves are pretty uniformly dull, there’s some chemistry between the two leads, and credit goes to Argento for creating likeable characters that we root for, something we rarely see in Argento films. In the seventies and eighties, Dario also become known as the master of unusual camera angles and movements, and The Card Player doesn’t disappoint, with plenty of beautiful tracking shots and high angles which almost remind you of the glory days, as well as Giallo-style killer POV’s and stalking around in the dark, and there’s also a decent attempt at creating tension and drama through the webcam kills, which work, and make for a rather solid and enjoyable first half.
Where the film falters, sadly, is in the second half, where events become painfully silly. One major character is dragged through the sea by speedboat, an inexplicable set piece that feels stolen from a cheap straight-to-video action film, while another major character is rather randomly killed by a cheap trap (after solving a pointless mystery). As characters die and the mystery slowly gets solved, The Card Player really falls off the rails. The identity of the killer is one of the most obvious reveals of all time, a far cry from the genius twists of his early Giallo features, and the big dramatic ending involves characters clicking a laptop, one of the most bizarrely banal climaxes ever conceived. As for the final shot of the film? Absolute hokum.
The Card Player can never be considered the lowest point of Dario Argento’s career (2009’s hideous Giallo holds that title), but it’s still a disappointment; a decent if ordinary thriller that slowly descends into predictable nonsense. Though the acting isn’t at all bad and the plot holds plenty of potential, The Card Player fails to hold interest, and by the end, becomes just another of Argento’s post-millennium flops.
By Harry J. Ford
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