Labyrinthus is, like many films around the world, a multi-national co-production. It is essentially a Belgian film as the talent involved hails from there, it’s in Flemish with smatterings of French and it’s Belgian-set in a very vague way. It tells the story of Frikke (Spencer Bogaert) who discovers a video game by chance and beneath the surface of this mysterious game is something sinister. It is plunging kids from the neighborhood into the game, while simultaneously sending their real-world into inexplicable comas. This creates a precarious symbiosis. Frike’s mission then is to discover who the nefarious creator of the game is.
This is not the first children’s film to deal with video games that I can think about off the top of my head. The obvious allusion would be to Spy Kids 2. However, what differentiates this film is the aforementioned duality. We mainly see the comatose character’s personae in the game. However, there is a tonality to it that is unique. The film is not overly-concerned about creating a video game onscreen. While this can be read to mean that the visual language isn’t terribly inventive, and the CG is nothing to write home about; what that thought would overlook is that it is interested in developing characters in these situations that we get to care and know about, also allowing them many crucial moments of decision and action. It also manages to craft some interpersonal relationships we care about.
This film also wastes no time getting things underway. Frikke’s introduction to the game comes very quickly. Characters and visual clue immediately spring to fore; Frikke’s very soon aware that something very odd is going on and that he has to get to the bottom of this mystery. It should be expected but a film with a brief running time should move well and this film does.
All those character and relationship moments are inevitably buoyed by the excellent performances by the young cast. It is shocking to consider that this is Spencer Bogaert’s first screen credit as he carries himself with the certitude of veteran. His presence is engaging and he easily conveys an every-kid type. Felix Maesschalck whose few moments in Time of My Life where rather is, in heartbreaking and beautiful scenes, here demonstrates a different type and shows a decent amount of range. Also notable is Emma Verlinden as Nola who has a genuine cinematic radiance.
The tonal balance that this film reaches is is perhaps what makes it work best. Any stuck-in-a-video-game film needs a fair bit of whimsy, but considering the stakes it also needs the correct amount of gravitas. Labyrinthus has enough of both and keeps it light at times, has its humor but also plays the drama and romance up where appropriate.
Labyrinthus may find its way to US audiences, like the recent Attraction Entertainment title Antboy, did. If it does it is a family-friendly tale that is well worth seeking out and should prove entertaining to viewers of all ages.