Streaming Review

Shadow Game review – migrant crossing doc leaves a sobering aftertaste

Eefje Blankevoort and Els van Driel’s experimental take on the modern refugee crisis reframes it as a video game to be conquered

While many of us were blissfully ignorant in our adolescence, content to play Runescape and Club Penguin, a game of more sinister proportions was unfolding across the continent. Taking an experimental approach to the nature of documentary filmmaking, Eefje Blankevoort and Els van Driel’s Shadow Game charters a new generation of teens on the run, threatened by the continued impact of the European asylum policy. Reframing the refugee crisis as a video game that can be conquered, this dystopian vision of “move to survive” leaves a sobering, if not familiar, aftertaste.

As our starting duo of refugees anxiously dart into darkened woodlands, faces obscured from awaiting authority, it seems almost counter-intuitive to shove a camera in their faces. Surprisingly, there’s a thrill of the chase to this forced migration, with the cast of teens taking to TikTok to document their near brushes with danger. Thanks to the maverick visuals of Shadow Game, which frequently switches from professional wide shots to close-up selfies, a haphazard sense of community is revealed where it otherwise might have been overlooked. As 15-year-old SK, from Afghanistan, shoots his surroundings with shaky hands, the necessity for documentation is made starkly apparent.

In broader terms, the stylistic value of Shadow Game isn’t maverick at all. Mobile photography direction and social media usage are things we’ve seen countless times, perhaps verging on dated in a meta-present world. But when these elements are thrust into the social context of crisis, they narrow the cinematic lens. What can often feel benign due to the distance sharpens into conversational focus, solely exploring kids and the world stacked against them. Refugees like Faiz, Fouad, and Durrab bring us into their inner circle, laying down a level of trust to approach something huge in words we understand.

It’s fair to assume that Shadow Game will fall beneath most people's radars, its heartbreaking contents sucked into a vacuum of sexy true crime, lost in a sea of ever-growing choice. Yet within its 90-minute runtime audiences will find a necessary, socially charged jolt. By honing in on the little things – be that the weather, the waves, or just asking how someone else is – these teenage boys provide the ideal vehicle for facing an ongoing crisis with fresh eyes.

Shadow Game is released on True Story from 29 July.

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