Directed by Bob Giordano
What are you willing to lose for a million pounds? That’s the question asked by new indy horror The Odds, in which a young woman (Butler, as The Player) does a pain endurance competition in the hope of winning big bucks. The setup is nineteen players in nineteen locations, all over the world competing to survive six rounds – each more painful than the last. Helped through the game by their a “Game Master” (our one is played by Fuertes), they risk their appendages and their lives for the entertainment of mysterious gamblers who go unseen. In fact, aside from the two leads, some muscles for hire who lug around the equipment and one other person, we don’t see anyone. And for this kind of story, that’s how it should be.
For regular visitors to this site, I’ve made it no small secret that I’m a big fan of horror that could be done on stage as well as the screen. Not that I’m above low-brow schlock at all, or movies with big numbers in the title – but I tend to like my horror to be minimalist and character-driven. Most importantly, I value a good script. As such, I was really excited about this film. The premise is cool, and despite the setup echoing Grotesque via Would You Rather, it manages to be its own thing. Sure, it may sound like a return to the torture films of the mid-noughties. But The Odds is generally a far more restrained piece. And the first challenge aside, during which we get jarringly close and personal with the pain with an overblown soundtrack, the violence is presented in a mostly matter of fact way. There’s little of it on-screen, and torture implements themselves leave a lot to the imagination (something I expect was a creative choice as much as a budgetary constraint – the film cost way less to make than the protagonist can win). But by dwelling on The Player’s reaction, it makes for an uncomfortable atmosphere that’s harrowing, if repetitive. It also helps adds a sense of dread as each new task gets set up: how much more can she take?
Both actors help by playing their parts well, with Butler doing mental and physical distress and well, along with finding moments of strength. Fuertes also gives everything you’d want for an ambiguous part: the charming smile paired with serial-killer eyes that leaves you wondering if he’s seducing or gaslighting. However, quite often the material they have to work with does them both a disservice. To be fair, their dynamic is interesting at first, with the pair of them initially working as a team. The exposition is also reasonably organic too, with both the situation and The Player’s backing story going under the microscope without too much awkwardness – save for odd bits of melodramatic phrasing. The problem is that such an austere approach to storytelling means the character work has to be spot on, or else the movie grinds to a halt. Especially when the two-hander story has a number of beats inherent to it, like The Player not failing the first test. Unfortunately, it lags during the midsection that gives the leads plenty of time, without much to do, between rounds. From fairly early on the game aspect of their dialogue flirts with a possible sexual tension – a possibility that gets played with via some clichéd characterisation. Given the grave circumstances that she finds herself in there’s something poignant to The Player dreaming up escapist fantasy, though as a dramatic focus it did little for me. The intimacy is mostly unearned, feeling contrived, and what’s worse is it detracts a lot from the intensity of the situation.
Admittedly their back and forth gets more interesting later on, as the story works hard to regain momentum – chucking in some unexpected turns. The Player also finally asks some intriguing questions she ought to have an hour ago. Which is a shame, as it gets much of it right in the opening and the ending. For instance, written into the premise are two clear resolutions, but to The Odds’ credit, it doesn’t go an obvious way. As such, I don’t doubt you’ll find things to enjoy. Yet at 107 minutes it overstays its welcome by at least 15 – an issue that robs the ending of some of its urgency. Where there should be pressure cooker tension, there’s a moderate simmer. Still, being a debut feature film it shows potential. Giordano has a decent eye for interesting angles to keep it feeling fresh, and despite serious issues with the execution, I liked what it aimed for. Though here’s hoping we get a second round that’s leaner and meaner.