A Tale of the Laundry Game (Short Movie Review)

It is nigh impossible to be a Horror fan without either knowing Stephen King or coming across his work in one form or another. In fact, even non-Horror fans might have felt his influence: Horror enthusiasts may have 1980’s The Shining or 1976’s Carrie in their collection, while their parents would be watching 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption or 1999’s The Green Mile. 2004’s Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace does not single out King specifically, but the fact its original UK run ran against King’s Kingdom Hospital series did not go unnoticed.

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That is not to say every King adaptation is a winner. Darkplace has certainly lasted longer in British pop culture than Kingdom Hospital, but his work is fertile ground for filmmaking. Which is where A Tale of the Laundry Game comes in. This short Horror film was directed by Matthew Maio Mackay (Book Club 2017, Smothered 2019), who also wrote the script alongside Max Kowalick. Mackay got the rights to King’s original short story from the author’s Dollar Baby project, where he gives rising filmmakers, students, theater producers, etc., the rights to a short story for $1.

The film received a limited cinematic run at the GU in Adelaide, Australia, before hitting the festival circuit with Melbourne’s 2019 Monster Fest. Making its way across the film festival circuit since, King fans have had some time to hunt it out. So, what is it about?

The film is based on the short story of the same name from the New Terrors anthology (1980) and King’s own anthology book Skeleton Crew (Putnam, 1985). It follows two men, Rocky (Marc Clement: Cheaters 2017, Youth on the March 2017) and Bob (Brendan Cooney: Pine Gap 2018, Fate of the Night 2020). They have a chance meeting when Rocky and his friend, Leo (Brad McNamara: Unremarkable 2019, Heaven’s Bridge 2019), take their car into Bob’s workshop for inspection. They reminisce about their past and present, and their involvement with a local milkman named Spike (James McCluskey-Garcia: Fat Pizza 2003, Love in the First Degree 2004).

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It is only 16 minutes long, being a humble short film based on a humble short story, but that does not mean it cannot leave an impression. For one, it is one of the few King-based media to go beyond Maine, let alone the US. The short relocates the action to Australia, since that is where most, if not all, of the cast and crew come from. It helps the film stand out, as does the camerawork. The image quality is crisp and clean, and the shot composition is nice too. Throw in some solid editing and one gets some nice sequences where the visuals say more about the story than dialogue could.

The film’s writing is not bad either. It helps that it is based on prime-King, so the foundations were already rather solid. It stays quite faithful to the original short story with a few touches of its own, like the odd sprinkling of some Aussie-isms and some curious references. In the end, its translation of the book’s subtle textual implications to visual ones leave a stronger impression than the dialogue. But is still fine work, and it should not make audiences wish it were a silent film.

Especially when the acting is pretty good too. Clement leaves the strongest impression as his character has a lot of energy between his boisterous rants about music, the past, and his marriage. Cooney, in turn, makes a good contrast with his slightly cooler-headed Bob. They interact quite well together, doing a convincing job at being old friends. McNamara and McCluskey-Garcia hold their own too, though they only have so much to do in the film’s runtime. Still, they hit their beats without much trouble.

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Not that it gets away flawlessly, as some sequences work better than others. Most actually work well, though two stick out as being comparatively rough. The first half tries for a Tarantino-esque, out-of-order storytelling style, where it shows a scene taking place prior to the intro after the intro. Then, once it hits the intro, it fast-forwards through what the audience has already seen to get to the new stuff. Quirky as it is, the short would have been stronger if it just stuck to the regular chronological order here. The second fault is just before the ending, where the film hits the wall of its budget. It goes for a work-around which, while bold, does not cover up the seam.

Ultimately, these faults are minimal compared to its successes. A Tale of the Laundry Game is an entertaining adaptation of a little-know King short with strong visual storytelling. It goes a long way in covering the source material’s beats and turns in its svelte 16 minutes. If one is looking for a quick Thriller, they cannot go wrong here. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 4 out of 5 stars.

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