Director/Screenplay – Justin Lee, Based on the Short Story by Richard Connell, Producers – Justin Lee, Ed Morrone & Michelle Ng, Photography – Eamon Long, Music – Jared Forman, Special Effects Supervisor/Makeup Effects – Edder Sandoval, Production Design – David Jeter. Production Company – Mill Creek Entertainment Koenig Pictures/Charach Productions.
Christopher Tamburello (Sanger Rainsford), Casper Van Dien (Baron Von Wolf), Judd Nelson (Marcus Rainsford), Elissa Dowling (Mary), Randy Charach (Rex Alan), Tom Berenger (Benjamin Colt), Bruce Dern (Whitney Tyler), Kevin Porter (Ivan), Eddie Finlay (Quinlan), David Nett (Captain Nielsen)
Sanger Rainsford, a soldier who recently served in World War II, joins his father Marcus, who has written on books on hunting, and his friend Rex Alan as they set sail to go on a hunting expedition. The journey takes them through a narrow and perilous channel near an island. In doing so, the ship ends up sinking. Sanger, Marcus and Rex wash ashore on the island. They meet and are welcomed by Baron Von Wolf, an expatriate German who says he fled from the Nazis. Over dinner, the Baron tells them how he enjoys hunting ‘the most dangerous game’ – humans. When they express shock at this, they discover that he is intending to us them as his game. The next day they are forced to run across the island unarmed as the baron comes hunting them.
Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game (1924) has become a classic. The story concerns a Russian aristocrat who enjoys hunting human game and a man forced to survive with only his bare hands where he succeeds in turning the tables despite. The classic film version was The Most Dangerous Game (1932) with Leslie Banks as Zaroff and Joel McCrea and Fay Wray on the run. This was remade several times – as A Game of Death (1945) and Run for the Sun (1956) where Zaroff became a Nazi instead of a Russian aristocrat, as well as exploitation copies such as Bloodlust (1961) and The Woman Hunt (1973). The basic premise has been updated into different settings – where Zaroff was replaced by an alien as in Predator (1987), assorted action movie variants or updated to reality tv. I have a full listing of these here in my essay Films About Human Bloodsports and Death Games.
This new version comes from Justin Lee who has been a prolific director in the action field in the last few years, mostly making Westerns and war films. These include the likes of Alone We Fight (2018), Any Bullet Will Do (2018), Big Legend (2018), A Reckoning (2018), Badland (2019), Final Kill (2020), Apache Junction (2021), Hunters (2021) and A Tale of Two Guns (2022), as well as the odd genre entry with the Satanist cult film Hellblazers (2022) and the killer shark film Maneater (2022).
There had been another film version of the Richard Connell story made five years before this with The Most Dangerous Game (2017), which took an action emphasis but suffered from a low budget. Lee’s version has a better budget – evident in being able to go and shoot on an island (or at least a shoreline) and bring in some name stars (although clearly not enough of a budget to depict the ship sinking). It is also somewhat better photographed. You cannot help but think if both of these versions were able to pit their resources together, you might have ended with a halfway decent version of the story. The definitive versions still remains the 1932 film, despite the fact that it is a decade short of being a century old as this version comes out.
This is kind of an okay but really, really unexceptional version. There is a reasonable amount of running around but the stakes never feel like they are life or death. We never see Christopher Tamburello engaged in any sweat on his brow fight to the death. Despite Justin Lee’s background directing action, there is not much of that here.
The film has more of a cast than there usually is in other versions of this story. Here Justin Lee manages to not only have three people shipwrecked on the island where they also encounter another couple who are being hunted, as well as Tom Berenger as a hermit who lives on the island. Casper Van Dien plays a fairly one-dimensional version of Count Zaroff who is now rewritten as a German aristocrat. The period is now made post-World War II, although it is a very soft period setting such that you would never guess until it is mentioned some way in.
Christopher Tamburello, who comes from a background in reality tv, makes a fairly blank and inexpressive hero. Judd Nelson plays the father – I remember Nelson for his parts as one of the eighties Brat Pack and in successive roles since. I clearly haven’t seen him in anything for some time as he seems to have gotten old while I haven’t been looking and is now playing a man who looks in his mid-sixties.