‘Death’s Roulette’ (2023) Review: Paramount’s Spanish Thriller Is Unmemorable


Directed by Manolo Cardona, “Death’s Roulette” is a Mexican mystery thriller that struggles to hit the right chords. The first five minutes of the film are visually stunning, but that is about it. As the film unfolds, it becomes more and more predictable. But before venting about why the film did not work, the utilization of space is worth noting. It was interesting that the space kept expanding along with the information that we received about the central character. But set design is not enough to pull off a mystery thriller. We have repeatedly seen similar ideas play out on screen, and perhaps that is one of the major reasons why “Death’s Roulette” fails to create a lasting impact.

Seven strangers find themselves locked in a room. While one would expect to be locked in a dingy room after being kidnapped, the victims were quite surprised by the majestic decor of the room. After helping one another untie their wrists and ankles, the victims tried to understand the possible reason behind the kidnapping. They introduced themselves to find a common factor, but they realized that there was none. The group consisted of a cop, Simon; a surgeon, Armando; a stewardess, Teresa; a retired man, Jose; a successful businessman, Esteban; his wife, Marta; and their daughter, Lupe. Esteban was confident that the kidnapper wanted to extort money, but Jose had been through worse, and he knew that they did not care for money. Unlike the rest of the victims, Jose was tortured before he was brought in. He had offered them money, but that did not stop them. To clear up all confusion about the kidnapping, the kidnapper announced that he brought them together to make them play a game that he curated. There were three rules: one, they had to choose someone to kill; two, the chosen one must agree to die; and finally, no one could volunteer themselves to die. They had one hour to choose someone from the group, and if they did not participate, they would be killed as well. A kidnapper bringing together strangers to play a death game is a ridiculously overdone idea.

As a surgeon who had saved countless lives, Armando believed that he deserved to live. He provided an estimated rough figure of the number of people he saves every year to establish how the world will only suffer without him. While Armando boasted of his accomplishments, Esteban and Marta decided to spell out their importance in the world as well. Their successful business had 80,000 employees, and without Esteban and Marta, they would all lose their jobs and suffer. Jose offered to die for them. After living through the torture, Jose wanted to end his life. He admitted that he made mistakes in his life that he was ashamed of, and he believed that he deserved to die more than anyone else. A platinum-haired shooter came, pointed his gun at Jose, and shot him in an instant. The kidnapper announced that they did not follow the rules of the game. Jose had volunteered to die, and that was not permitted according to the three rules of the game. They were asked to find someone else before they ran out of time. With the clock ticking, the strangers become hostile toward one another. And to add some spice to the game, doors to strangely decorated rooms were opened, each revealing a new secret about the strangers. While the group had to choose someone to die, would the kidnapper spare the rest after their display of savagery? Or was the experiment intended to reveal how far the strangers were willing to go to save their lives?

“Death’s Roulette” was so caught up in delivering one revelation after another that it did not think through the characters. There were seven characters, to begin with, but none were remotely impactful. They were a bunch of annoying people that you would prefer to steer clear of, but that was not enough to keep the audience engaged for 90 minutes. It is all the more frustrating because the characters had enough material to explore, yet they remained quite underdeveloped. It is disheartening that even with a bunch of talented actors on screen, Manolo Cardona could not deliver the tight-grip mystery thriller that one would expect. From the moment that the death game was introduced, the film became way too predictable. Even with gory visuals thrown here and there, the horror did not reach its full potential. The revelation, in the end, binds it all together, and while it was an interesting turn of events, it became quite explanation-heavy towards the end.

You can watch “Death’s Roulette” for its set design, the play of light, and at times the cinematography, but definitely not for the screenplay. The story is familiar, the characters are unexplored, and there is barely anything to root for. It is a film about a bunch of obnoxious adults trying to save their lives even after realizing that they are trapped in a mansion, and the kidnapper is, well, pretty much a sadistic psychopath. The film relies heavily on revelations to create a dramatic impact, but in the end, you feel nothing but frustration and disappointment. I also believe that going back to the stories that the audience is already familiar with is not a clever choice. A comparison is bound to be drawn, and it is all the more difficult to impress. Even if the story is not unique, one can make it engaging with their distinct approach. “Death’s Roulette” is a reminder that it is not enough for a film to just look good; it must tell a compelling story that the audience will be eager to watch unfold. Hopefully, Manolo Cardona will deliver something more promising next time.  If you have watched “Death’s Roulette,” let us know what you thought about it.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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