VOD Releases: Playground (2017) - Reviewed

Almost since its very existence, cinema has found some way to shock its audiences. Our definition of what is shocking has vastly changed over the decades, as nudity and violence have become an expected norm in films. But, there are still some motion pictures that are currently considered the worst of the worst, some so shocking or disturbing that most people couldn’t stand to sit through. That list would most likely include A Serbian Film (2010), Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), Nekromantik (1987), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), among others. Because of its dark subject matter and disturbing finale, Bartosz M. Kowalski’s new Polish film Playground will definitely be considered to be one of the most shocking films ever. 

The story takes place in a small Polish town, on the final day of elementary school. It follows three ordinary 12-year old children, two boys and one girl. Gabrysia sets ups a secret meeting after school to tell Szymek that she loves him. The meeting spirals out of control, leading to a series of horrifying events. Playground is based on true events that happened in Liverpool, England in the ‘90s, with some minor alterations taking place. Kowalski begins the film in a nonlinear fashion, focusing on each of the child’s mornings leading up to them arriving at school. It’s an interesting choice, as it paints a picture of what their lives are like and what could have made them do what they do. 

Kowalski shoots the film in an almost documentary style, following them around as if we’re watching real people in real situations. Yes there are some cinematic moments and highly edited scenes, but it generally feels like a documentary. The minimal use of score adds to that sense of realism, with a classical style composure used in certain scenes to create an elevated tension or mood. The final scene consists of one continuous take about 15 feet away from the subjects, with no score and just the little amount of sounds that we can hear. It is the style that this scene is shot in, combined with the events that occur, that make it so sad and disturbing. 

There is a great deal of social commentary in Playground. We are almost constantly bombarded by news of children harassing other children, killing other children, or suicides resulting from harassment and abuse. The film is Polish, but these events could easily happen in any city in the United States. Also, there is the question of are killers made by their environment or are they born that way? Kowalski doesn’t necessarily take a stand on either, but he does supply some evidence to explain the criminality that occurs in the finale. 

It’s hard to say who this movie will appeal to, it falls somewhere between being true crime and being a horror film. There is no doubt that Playground is a quality movie that deserves to be seen by viewers who can stomach the tough ending. 

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