The Immigration Game (2017) – Film Review
Director: Krystof Zlatnik
Cast: Mathis Landwehr, Denise Ankel, Katharina Sporrer
by Rachael Popow
From The Running Man to The Hunger Games, movies about deadly reality shows are nothing new. However, The Immigration Game puts a topical twist on the genre.
The thriller is set in a not-so-distant future where Germany is the only country in Europe that hasn’t closed its borders to refugees. But in order to gain German citizenship, asylum seekers, known as ‘runners’, must take part in a televised contest which sees them navigating the streets of Berlin. Meanwhile, ordinary Germans can become ‘hunters’, who are rewarded for maiming and killing the new arrivals.
When German-born Joe (Mathis Landwehr) accidentally kills a hunter while trying to protect an injured runner, he is given a stark choice – either serve 20 years for murder or become a contestant in ‘The Immigration Game’ himself. He chooses the Game, but does he have what it takes to survive, especially as the fallen hunter’s comrades are out for revenge?
As immigration policies go, the reality show method has some very glaring flaws, one of which the film points out within the first ten minutes. Joe’s brother claims he wants to learn self-defence because he’s worried that the Game essentially ensures that only the most violent, ruthless refugees get to stay. It also seems like the fictional series’ producers have made a tactical error by staging the show in Berlin, where the runners can give the drone cameras the slip and the general public could be put at risk.
“Occasional moments of satire”
Despite this, The Immigration Game has a genuinely intriguing premise, which plays on current fears about refugees and the risks of dehumanising them. So it’s frustrating that the movie often ignores its implications in favour of so-so fight scenes. (An opening caption explains that guns are forbidden in the Game, but it doesn’t say whether the rules also state that the hunters must move very slowly and only attack one at a time).
By focusing on the bland Joe, writer/director Krystof Zlatnik spends surprisingly little time exploring the desperation that would drive a refugee to take part. And the film only very belatedly addresses the issue of public reactions to the Game and what it might mean in a country with Germany’s fascist past.
There are occasional moments of satire – a blase researcher runs through the rules before asking Joe if he’s excited about being on TV – but while The Immigration Game deserves credit for topicality, it can’t help feeling like something of a missed opportunity.