Polybius isn’t a video game. It’s an urban legend. Supposedly, the game was a government experiment, a game that produced not only intense psychoactive symptoms but also became addictive. Even crazier, the Men in Black would data mine these machines and study the users. Why? Who knows — legends like this have gone as far back as The Last Starfighter, stories like how Missile Command was being used to recruit people good enough to save the country when the bombs eventually (inevitably) fell.
Oz (Chase Williamson, John Dies at the End) is content to be alone with the ancient video games — fixing them, playing them, creating them — in his boss Jerry’s arcade. Everything in his life is thrown for a loop in one day: the arcade is closing, he meets a girl named Tess (Fabianne Therese, John Dies at the End) and a strange new game shows up unannounced.
What follows is a Cronenberg-esque body horror odyssey with sexualized video game controls being manipulated, bodies being distorted to add circuits and time loops where multiple versions of Oz can exist. It’s also a love story.
The game, when shown, looks like what Polybius has been described as. It gradually takes over Oz’s reality until he decides that the only person who made the rules for his game is himself.
It’s an interesting effort from actor/writer/director Graham Skipper, who starred in Almost Human and directed the film Space Clown. It’s an obvious tribute to Videodrome, but where that film had volumes to speak about culture, violence and the intersection of both, this movie doesn’t have nearly as much to say. I was kind of hoping for Oz to have more of a redemptive journey after he argued with Tess, telling her that he may have always been the person that he has become post video game freakout.
You can catch this movie on Shudder, where it has recently premiered.