Director: Robbie Fraser (UK-2005)
Glasgow, the present. Young loner Ralph is sacked from his supermarket job and returns home to his grandmother’s house. Upstairs in his room, Ralph finds solace in a ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ fantasy game, where his alter ego ‘Z’rennk rules the underworld.
On his first day at University, Ralph joins a gaming socety where he’s met by fellow players Davy, Hank and Marlyn. Ralph presents the group with a unique set of rules and soon becomes their new games master. Marlyn tells Ralph that her parents are dead. Ralph is accosted by a local gang who attempt to burn precious copies of the new rules. Ralph agrees to let gang member Lennie join his group, on the condition that he return the last copy of the rules. At a new game, Ralph becomes jealous as Lennie and Marlyn flirt. Ralph tries to annihilate Lennie’s gaming character. Ralph finds out where Marlyn lives and is met by her alcoholic mother, who tells him that her daughter is not a student and that she works at a fetish shop. Ralph visits Marlyn at work, where they kiss in the store cupboard. Ralph is furious to discover that Lennie and Marlyn are an item, and informs Lennie’s gang about the reason for his absence. Lennie is beaten up. The players are discovered by the university janitor and decide to finish the game in an abandoned tower. Davy and Hank are first out, leaving Lennie and Marlyn in the competition. Z’rennk condemns their characters to a brutal end in the underworld. The gamers fight and make up. Ralph decides to break away from fantasy gaming and returns to university.
Making a comedy about fantasy role-playing might seem a risky strategy for a fledgling director, but Robbie Fraser’s micro-budget debut manages to be simultaneously charming, idiotic and genuinely witty. The film centres on mercilessly bullied university freshman Ralph (Ross Finbow), who lives with his grandmother on the wrong side of the tracks and escapes his troubled reality by assuming the persona of his alter ego ‘Z’rennk’ (Arnold Brown) in a Dungeons & Dragons’ fantasy world. When he falls in with a group of university gaming enthusiasts, Ralph impresses them with his ability to invent new adventures, and swiftly becomes their games master. Soon he’s smitten with mischievious goth-girl Marlyn (Danielle Stewart), who rather over identifies with her elfin alter ego. The trouble starts when Ralph’s old enemy, smalltime crook Lennie, having experienced a moment of epiphany while watching The Lord of the Rings on acid, moves in on the game and the girl, prompting Ralph to exact his revenge.
While the characters in Gamerz are depicted as fairly stereotypical of the gaming fraternity (theology student Hank wears a neckbrace from ‘over moshing’), Fraser eschews ridicule and treats his angst-ridden teens with a degree of compassion as the plot shifts from comedy to darker subject matter. However, despite its themes of love, jealousy and family dysfunction, the tone is kept light by a stiff dose of toilet humour and overall lunacy.
Inspired by Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 The Lord of the Rings, Fraser boldly stretches his limited budget by utilising expressionistic animation sequences (by Kostantinos Koutsoliotos) to depict the gamers’ imaginary universe of wizards, elves and orcs. As Ralph and Lennie battle it out for Marlyn’s affections, the characters’ role-playing alter egos are illustrated in silhouette and shadow, creating an intriguing interplay between fantasy and reality. Unfortunately, once the film veers into drama, the pacing begins to sag, and there is an unwillingness to touch on more complex social issues. That aside, it’s hard not to be swayed by the irresistible appeal of its non-professional cast. Finbow is superb as the achingly awkward, lovestruck Ralph, and as the pill-popping Lennie, James Young creates a character so relentlessly droll that it’s impossible to judge him negatively. Propelled by a buoyant script laced with quickfire Glaswegian patter, Fraser’s film delivers an amiable coming-of-age tale that joyfully celebrates imagination, storytelling and relationships.
Sight & Sound – Vol 18 Issue 04 – April 2008 – Page 60