CAPSULE: A rookie police detective has been kidnapped and is being imprisoned by a masked serial killer. He thinks about the lessons he learned during weekly poker games with local veteran detectives who talked about their police experiences. Perhaps he can find a clue to how to survive his ordeal. POKER NIGHT is a creative film and not a little tricky. Writer/director Greg Francis honed his skills on television and now that he is breaking out into feature films he proves to have a deft touch. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Poker night. That is the night that the Warsaw, Indiana, police detectives get together to play poker, drink beer, and talk about their previous cases and some of the lessons they learned along the way. Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) is the newbie. He mostly just listens trying to cull wisdom from the experience of veteran detectives. But we soon find Jeter is just thinking about his poker nights. The information could be really useful to him just at the moment. It seems a serial killer has kidnapped him. He will need all the wisdom he can muster to survive the night. It seems a serial killer in an ugly mask has Jeter imprisoned in the killer's basement. Oh, and his (too) young girlfriend Amy (Halston Sage) is also being held by the killer. Right now the lessons that his fellow detectives shared with him could come in really handy if he is going to escape from the killer alive.
As Jeter relives his past poker games he thinks about his friends around the table. There is the smooth-talking Bernard (Giancarlo Esposito), the cynical Cunningham (Ron Eldard), Maxwell (Titus Welliver), and Jeter's mentor, Calabrese (the versatile Ron Perlman). The poker games have been his education in practical police detective work. While Jeter desperately searches his options, the killer is telling him about his background and why he became a killer. Jeter pictures the scenes that the killer's past only since Jeter knows the killer only as the masked man, he pictures the killer going through life with that ugly reptilian mask on his face.
POKER NIGHT is a nice little horror thriller in much the same vein and some of the power of films such as THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SE7EN. The villain is a psychotic killer nearly memorable enough to rank with the killers in those films. Writer/director Greg Francis has had extensive work writing and directing for television, but his first feature film is an auspicious start with a film that requires concentration. The viewer is jerked back and forward in time and Francis wastes little screen time explaining what is going on and why. Francis goes from comedy to horror to suspense. The visual story telling is tricky and the writing is even more so. This is one of those films fans may want to see multiple times to get the story straight. Occasionally it may even require a little eyestrain.
The viewer should be warned that some painful looking scenes. Jeter's experience is as imaginative as it is unpleasant. I rate POKER NIGHT a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2548208/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/poker_night/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper