A twisting thriller with fearless direction pits Ron Perlman against a masked man with killer potential

Poker Night is a twisted gem displaying a warped sense of humor. Writer and director Greg Francis cut his teeth before Poker Night directing episodes of low-budget cable television fare. His theatrical debut is an impressive thriller with an all-star cast, led by veteran actors Ron Perlman and Giancarlo Esposito. The serial killer genre has gotten increasingly predictable over the years as Hollywood follows the same mind-numbing formula over and over again. Made from a smart script, Poker Night breathes new life into the tired genre formula. This is one of the most original thrillers about a serial killer since David Fincher’s perfect Seven.

Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) is a young officer that has just been made a detective. The group of older detectives invite him over for a friendly game of poker, where they share war stories and detective wisdom they’ve accumulated over the years. Detective Calabrese (Ron Perlman) is the leader of this little group, a cop’s cop that is widely admired for his fierce loyalty and service.

Perlman has played this kind of seasoned cop many times before, a role that naturally fits his skill set as an actor. For an independent film from a director with no pedigree, the cast is excellent. The group of detectives is rounded out by veteran actors like Titus Welliver and Ron Eldard. Each detective vividly relates a past investigation around the poker table as Stan sits back and soaks it up. The storytelling in some ways is reminiscent of The Usual Suspects, though it is not on the level of that all-time classic.

For an independent film from a director with no pedigree, the cast is excellent.

Poker Night is one of those films where the less you know beforehand about its plot, the better. Soon after the poker game ends for the night, Stan becomes the plaything of a sadistic, masked serial killer (Michael Eklund). It becomes a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between Stan and the anonymous killer, eventually involving an underage girl that Stan has been seeing romantically, Amy (Halston Sage). This all carefully unfolds in an intricate narrative as Stan flashes back to how he became a detective.

More than its smart script or the veteran actors obviously relishing their roles, what separates Poker Night from all the wannabe thrillers is the fairly brilliant way it presents the killer. The masked man at first looks unremarkable as a modern serial killer, wearing a business suit with a strange mask that hides his identity. This is where Poker Night’s truly warped sense of humor comes into play.

The killer nearly breaks the fourth wall as he details his origins to Stan in a darkly humorous story, telling it in an elaborate fantasy sequence that spoofs every convention from the genre. The sequences include masterful storytelling and direction, putting a new coat of paint on very tired clichés. It is that creative spark that makes me excited to see Greg Francis’ next film.

Poker Night is one of the more memorable thrillers to come along in years. Featuring a capable cast having fun with their supporting roles, Poker Night will keep you guessing until the end with its startling twists and turns. Could this be the birth of another horror franchise? That is distinctly possible with the right script.

Movie ★★★★★

Behind the desk @ 24:10

XLrator Media brings Poker Night to Blu-ray in an average 1080P presentation. This is not prime Blu-ray quality for a new release. Confined to a BD-25, the 105-minute main feature is encoded in an AVC video encode that averages 22.5 Mbps. The movie is shown in its proper scope aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The fairly gritty cinematography is layered with noisy textures and some crushing.

The video compression gets hurt by the space limitations on a BD-25. The AVC encode has problems with the dense cinematography, leading to macroblocking and other artifacts in the darkest scenes. Slight banding is also visible. These aren’t persistent problems but definitely lead to reduced clarity in the video.

Poker Night’s sharpness and definition are rather erratic. Close-ups exhibit solid levels of micro-detail with superb clarity, leading to decent dimensionality. Longer shots fare much poorer with their reduced clarity and increased softness. Much of the film also has a green push to its color-timing, affecting flesh-tones and color saturation.

In this transfer’s favor, it has been left untouched by filtering and is free of edge enhancement. The video doesn’t have immense depth but does occasionally produce better moments of crisp resolution and focus. The noisy texture of its grain looks a bit cheap, crushing black levels in some interior scenes. The contrast does greatly improve when action moves outside in the daylight.

Video ★★★☆☆

Horror thrillers often need a strong surround mix as the final piece of the entertainment puzzle. Poker Night’s 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio is firmly up to that task, delivering a moody score by Scott Glasgow and authentic action. Plenty of isolated surround cues help create an effective mix for Poker Night’s brand of intense confrontations between Stan and the killer. The subwoofer isn’t forgotten either, nicely blended with everything spread across the front soundstage. This is a solid audio presentation that has its moments.

XLrator Media provides optional English SDH subtitles. Displaying in white font, the subs remain inside the scope framing at all times.

Audio ★★★★☆

All we get for Poker Night are a bunch of trailers, most of which only play before the main menu. I would have loved to hear a commentary from director Greg Francis or the cast.

Poker Night Trailer (01:41 in HD)

Trailers For Housebound, The Mule, and Ironclad: Battle For Blood (05:41 in HD) – Three other XLrator Media’s BDs get trailers before the main menu plays. They can all be skipped by remote.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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