The Big Picture
- Asa Butterfield takes a departure from his usual innocent roles in All Fun and Games, portraying a moody and cynical character named Marcus Fletcher.
- Butterfield delivers an impressive performance in the first half of the film, showcasing his range and intensity as Marcus. However, his portrayal of a possessed individual in the second half falls flat and becomes campy.
- Despite the talented cast, including Natalia Dyer and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, All Fun and Games fails to utilize them effectively. The film’s inconsistent tone and lackluster cinematography contribute to its overall disappointment.
Asa Butterfield has had quite an illustrious career, often playing characters distinguished by their childlike innocence and heroic nature. Even in darker films, such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Butterfield is almost always the heart of the film. For better or worse, Butterfield did a complete 180 in type with this year’s All Fun and Games. In All Fun and Games, Butterfield trades in the wistful youth of the titular characters in both Hugo and Ender’s Game for the moody and cynical Marcus Fletcher, brother of two who ends up taking the fall for an evil entity embodied in a cursed knife which possesses him and his siblings and makes them commit horrible acts of cruelty, including murder. His character has shades of real-life scapegoats like the West Memphis Three, a misanthropic teenager growing up in Salem, Massachusetts who likes to play drums, smoke weed in his room, and Fangoria. Marcus has two siblings, his sister Billie (Natalia Dyer) and little brother Jonah, or “Jo” (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).
How Asa Butterfield Diverges From Previous Performances in ‘All Fun and Games’
The movie itself is not all that interesting, as it retreads a lot of territory seen in countless supernatural horror flicks, especially the Evil Dead films. Even though they came out the same year, both All Fun and Games and Evil Dead Rise share a lot of surface-level similarities that prove to only diminish the experience of watching the former as it will most likely remind you of the latter and how much better and more visceral that film is. Seeing as the movie doesn’t have a lot to offer as far as frights or kills, the main attraction with All Fun and Games is undeniably its cast, which features some of the brightest and most recognizable young actors working today, specifically within the horror genre. Dyer, who has mostly been known over the past near decade as Nancy Wheeler in Stranger Things, has also stretched herself as an actor with smaller indie fare, and Ainsworth is mostly known for Mike Flanagan‘s The Haunting of Bly Manor. Both actors provide competent and convincing performances, but mainly stick to what is expected of them.
Butterfield’s Marcus is completely out of fucks to give. He’s sick of his kid brother constantly getting into trouble and relying on Marcus to get him out of it, a conflict that is solidified in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. When two older bullies about Marcus’ age make crass sexual remarks about Billie to the two brothers on their way home, Jo retaliates by throwing his slushy at the car which results in a brawl between Marcus and the two older boys. Despite shedding enough blood to vindicate the boys’ honor, Marcus is understandably pretty pissed and blows up at his little brother. The rage in Butterfield’s expression and delivery is unlike anything the 26-year-old actor has exhibited until now. He possesses a piercing gaze that seems to cut right through you. Combined with an uncharacteristically edgy look including pierced ears and light stubble, Butterfield is unrecognizable, especially in the second half where he becomes possessed, turning into a puppet for the main antagonist.
Asa Butterfield Isn’t at His Best in ‘All Fun and Games’
Unfortunately, it is in this second half of the film where Butterfield’s performance takes a nosedive and skirts the line of camp. While it’s clear that he has the potential to be an imposing onscreen presence, once he starts talking in what can only be described as “possession voice,” Marcus’ character completely loses his edge, devolving into self-parody. This intuitively feels like a directing problem and less so a problem on the part of Butterfield who otherwise gives a good performance, nailing the big brother dynamic and angst which comes along with his character. Butterfield also has great chemistry with his costars, whose relationships are clearly conveyed from the get-go.
Nevertheless, his performance as a possessed individual is totally unconvincing. Possessed Marcus has hints of Heath Ledger‘s Joker and Pennywise, giving a slightly eccentric cadence to his voice and mannerisms. In 2023, unless done in a completely unique way, the “slightly quirky, off-center” villain trope is so tired that it completely takes one out of the movie. Asa Butterfield gives it his all, but the movie just can’t overcome its own unintentional campiness turning what is an almost decent and watchable, albeit forgettable, horror flick in the first half into a cringe-inducing possession comedy that is nearly impossible to take seriously. However, it can’t be emphasized enough that considering his considerable talent and All Fun and Games‘ serious lack of self-awareness in other aspects, Asa Butterfield’s unconvincing performance is simply a symptom of a movie that doesn’t really have much to offer.
‘All Fun and Games’ Doesn’t Utilize Its Cast Properly
Asa Butterfield isn’t unique when it comes to young actors wanting to grow out of the roles into which they’ve been typecast. For example, Elijah Wood went from lovable hobbit to psychotic cannibal in Sin City, and of course several famous Disney actors tried to break out of their mold in the infamous Spring Breakers. Unfortunately, while it worked out for many other young actors, All Fun and Games isn’t a ringing endorsement for Asa Butterfield going against type. He is undeniably talented and his range has been proven in several of his more notable projects, including Sex Education, and hopefully he will have more substantial roles to explore in the future.
Butterfield undoubtedly has the screen presence necessary to be a compelling and unnerving villain, but the direction that must have been given to him was just too hammy. The film’s tone most certainly didn’t help with that as it doesn’t know if it wants to lean into the camp or go in a more serious direction. The cinematography is extremely dull and overly dark, yet what is happening onscreen belongs in a much cheesier movie. Someone needed to tell the filmmakers that there is nothing remotely scary about a cursed knife, nor does speeding up the camera movement send shivers down the viewer’s spine. All three of the lead actors, Dyer, Ainsworth, and especially Butterfield, all do their best with what they are given, but none of them can save this unfortunate disaster of a film.