Wizard’s Way: Slamdance Review

Sly and snarky proves a winning combination in this documentary send-up.

A filmmaking team of unknowns humorously explores the various subcultures of online gaming.

A comedic faux-documentary that delves into the insular world of massive multiplayer online gaming, Wizard’s Way uncovers some fairly odd sub-cultural traits among fantasy-game geeks, sometimes ending up in felicitously unexpected places. In keeping with the film’s focus, digital distribution options may provide the best methods for further dissemination.

Recent Manchester, UK university graduates and filmmakers Joe (Joe Stretch) and Chris (Chris Killen) finally hit upon a project that they think could be a winner: documenting the near-demise of the Internet community associated with Wizard’s Way, an antiquated online multiplayer game with a rapidly dwindling fanbase. In particular, they’re interested in profiling the game’s undisputed master, known as “Windows,” who happens to live in town.

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Before they can interview Windows, aka Julian, at home, they’ll have to get past his overprotective roommate Barry (Socrates Adams-Florou), a heavyset, bearded layabout who lives in the flat’s bathroom, sleeping in the tub. Barry warns them against disturbing Windows when he’s “in-game,” particularly since he’s eager to go on-camera himself to describe Wizard’s Way and discuss his friendship with Windows, whom he succinctly describes as being “the Michael Jackson of Wizard’s Way, but alive.”

Even with Barry’s guidance, the workings of the early-generation game remain somewhat obscure, involving Medieval wizards, dragons and various rural townsfolk competing for points in an extremely rudimentary game, characterized by poorly pixilated imagery, limited color options and painfully slow game action. Once Windows (Kristian Scott,) turns up, it’s clear that he’s a fairly shy, ordinary guy who just likes to play videogames for six hours or more at a stretch. He doesn’t seem very interested in being an interview subject, but appears willing to tolerate the filmmakers, at least until their frequent visits become too intrusive. Even as he begins to lose his grip on the project, Joe’s still got a few strategies to draw Windows out of his shell, but he fails to anticipate the consequences his disruptive filmmaking style may have on the game’s loyal fans.

Directed by a multi-tasker known as “Metal Man,” the film’s prankish perspective is hardly original, but remains fresh due to its offbeat characterizations and performances. To the extent they’re actually acting and not in fact presenting some version of their real selves, the wanna-be filmmakers Stretch and Killen are polar opposites, with Joe playing the manic tabloid-style interviewer digging for dirt against Chris’ laidback film-geek persona.

As the roommates, Barry and Windows are somewhat better matched, although Adams-Florou’s interpretation of Barry as an egomaniacal recluse desperate for attention, even if he can only find it on YouTube, is consistently off-putting. Scott presents Windows as a rather lost, bewildered soul who perhaps puts too much stock in the online game’s fantasy world. The multi-hyphenate Metal Man strikes the right tone for the film – keeping it teetering between aggrandized student film project and potential breakout cult documentary. His constantly probing camera mimics the filmmaker characters’ own insistent style, rendered in flat pro-sumer HD imagery.

The “Wizard’s Way” game design by Freddie Hair and Darasimi Makinde is a marvel of remarkably retro programming.

Venue: Slamdance Film Festival, Narrative Features Competition

Production companies: Big Life Pictures, Electric Dynamite Productions

Cast: Kristian Scott, Socrates Adams-Florou, Chris Killen, Joe Stretch, Jessica Treen

Director-screenwriter: Metal Man

Producer: Lloyd Stanton

Executive producers: Jack Black, Priyanka Mattoo, Claire Lewis, Simon D. Pearce, Paul Toogood, Tim Parry, Jazz Summers

Director of photography: Metal Man

Editors: Socrates Adams-Florou, Chris Killen, Chris Dickens, Tim Moss

Sales: WME

No rating, 76 minutes