Paintball is a fascinating game, permitting average domesticated folk an opportunity to immerse themselves in a world of heated combat and precise military strategy, with the only possible downside being a few welts and stained clothing. “Paintball” is a low-budget thriller that twists purist enthusiasm for the sport in a rather macabre way, attaching life or death stakes to a pastime often associated with genial weekend warrior escapism.
Enticed to an Eastern European forest for an epic game of professional paintball, a team of strangers have arrived blindfolded, armed, and ready for some fun. Once set loose in the endless woods, the team finds themselves under fire from an unknown opponent, who’s using real ammunition to pick off the squad one by one. Panicked, the group flees off the trail, searching for a way to safety while a masked hunter stalks them slowly, offering items of survival to toy with his prey as the game goes on into the night.
A Spanish production from helmer Daniel Benmayor, “Paintball” doesn’t submit a revolutionary cinematic idea for suspense, yet, for a directorial debut, the picture shows some scare zone ability beyond the dreary norm. The story is simple: strangers of all temperaments and battlefield ability hit the game floor, find the rules have cruelly changed, and we watch as they turn on one another as the murderous mood explodes. It’s another variation on “The Most Dangerous Game,” only handed a modern twist of sorts with the paintball setting, playing on the tenuous bravado of gamers handed their survivalist realism wish.
Far from a sociological experiment, “Paintball” is primarily a chiller, tracking the escalating panic of the team as they attempt to deduce the threat. Benmayor uses the charged energy of the hunt to work on his camera moves, trying on several one-take showoff shots to summarize the chaos of moment. Of course, anything involving tension is worked over with some brutal shaky-cam nonsense, but a few moments shine, and I enjoyed the use of thermal-vision cameras for the hunter’s POV, which enhances the creepiness of the kills, but also provides unique images of bloodshed, with ultraviolence dialed all the way up to take full advantage of the colorless gore.
Acting isn’t the strongest point of “Paintball,” as most of the cast has a maddening tendency to wail obnoxiously as they near the cold kiss of death. Benmayor could’ve toned down the acting-school histrionics considerably and still achieve the same sense of despair.
The revelation of the killer is unfortunately more “Hostel” than hostile, with the finale a limply staged extended chase missing the shock of the opening act. “Paintball” runs out of steam long before it ends, but a few striking sequences lend it some personality. Maybe not enough to recommend it entirely, but enough to suggest Benmayor could improve greatly as a director over time.