Indie Horror Month 2016: Executing 'The Deed'

It's just so easy to kill someone in a video game that it's surprising when a game makes murder difficult.

The Deed

Publisher: GrabTheGames Studios
Developer: Pilgrim Adventures, GrabTheGames Studios
Release Date: 2015-11-23

I've killed a lot of people in video games. Mostly on purpose, sometimes accidentally. It's usually for some greater good or for survival. It's kill or be killed out there in these virtual worlds. Occasionally there is no greater good or even any good involved. Vengeance, anger, curiosity, boredom -- these are all fine reasons to kill someone in a video game. It's not a big deal. I'm not here to pontificate on the morality of it all, I'm more interested in the ease of it all. It's just so easy to kill someone in a video game that it's surprising when a game makes murder difficult.

The Deed is not explicitly a horror game. Tonally it's more of a crime thriller, a classic murder mystery whodunit in which we play the killer instead of the investigator. Structurally it's more of a puzzle game in which have to figure out how to best frame someone else for our crime. However, the horror element emerges the more that you play it and the more that you realize how the game is making you think.

We play as Arran Bruce, heir of Dunshiel House, though not for much longer. We’ve been estranged from our family for quite a while, but we’ve come home for our father's birthday in order to stop him from giving our inheritance to our sister. The easiest way to accomplish this is to kill our sister. Don't worry too much about the morality of your actions here. Our father was physically and mentally abusive, and our sister is a deranged individual who would squander her inheritance anyway. Our mother drinks away her pain, but at least the maid and butler seem like fine people. Not that that matters. We're going to murder someone tonight, and we need a patsy to take the fall. Kindness and sympathy are only going to get in the way of our perfect crime.

Like any good murder simulator, The Deed offers plenty of options for killing: shotgun, rope, poison, knife, club, or even your bare hands. As the evening begins, we have free reign to explore the house in order to pick a weapon and a piece of evidence. Once we choose these two items, the game automatically moves forward to a dinner scene, and afterwards, we have free reign once again to plant the evidence and do the deed.

This structure is actually quite simple and straightforward. The Deed is a short game that's all about replayability, testing different combinations of evidence and murder weapon. If you skip over the dialogue, which you'll absolutely do by your third attempt, you can get through the game in less than 20 minutes. It's short, but it's far from simple. There's a surprising and impressive amount of nuance in how the night can play out.

The first time that I tried to kill my sister I carefully explored the house until I found some items that told a perfectly acceptable story. I’d hide some love letters between my sister and the maid under the maid’s bed. Then I’d strangle my sister with a noose, making it look like suicide. To further sell the lie, I was sure to comment on their flirting during dinner.

The maid was certainly a great patsy, but I ended up getting the details of my story all wrong because I didn’t realize the game was smart enough to recognize my inconsistencies. The noose came from a crate locked by the butler, so why would the maid have access? My sister and the maid may have been flirting, but I did nothing to hint at a strained relationship, so the suicide angle fell flat. Finally, I was acting like an asshole the whole night, telling off my abusive father, insulting my idiot sister, and calling my mother a drunk. It felt good to do all those things since the fiction goes a long way in demonizing your family members, but my cathartic vengeance only succeeded in turning suspicions towards me. It took me a few tries to realize what I was doing wrong.

Games often make us into killers, but they rarely make us think like a killer. The Deed wants you to think like a killer, and more specifically a sociopathic killer. The perfect crime is more than just the right weapon used at the right time. It’s about manipulating the people around us as well. The Deed wants us to think through every aspect of the crime, to plan our every move and every word. All that we do is a thoughtful act of deception. We’re not just any old killer, we're a fledgling Hannibal Lecter, an amateur Dexter Morgan.

If those two successful (fictional) serial killers have anything in common, it's their understanding of the importance of outward appearances. They act demure. They're smart, calm, and certainly not afraid of speaking their mind, but they're not one to go looking for a fight. If offended, they would shrug off the insult publicly, make a show of taking it in stride. Privately, they would kill the shit out of the offender, but it's that awareness of outward appearances that matters to The Deed.

Our attitude matters. Our outward appearance matters. Our actions, as interpreted by others, matter. We're not an assassin or soldier or hero who can act without consequence, we actually have to worry about how our actions will be perceived by those around us (or more specifically, by the detective called to the house to investigate).

This is how the game moves beyond its premise as a simple murder simulator. It's not really about the physical action of killing, it’s about the mental preparation before the killing. It's not about being a killer, it's about thinking like a killer. It's about understanding the importance of a social mask, and forcing ourselves to bear the niceties of society in order to achieve our dark goal.

I can’t curse out my father if I'm trying to set up the maid. I must be polite so as to not distract the later investigation. However, if my father is going to be the fall guy then I can argue with him, but only in such a way as to establish him as a man with a violent temper. I still can't curse him out. I still can't let my true feelings be known. The kill is all that matters, any other want or desire must be suppressed and controlled.

There is a perfect way to play The Deed, a perfect series of answers that you’ll always want to give to avoid suspicion, and they always involve you keeping your real feelings to yourself. You only let down your mask if doing so will help frame a target, but for the rest of the night, every night, you put up a smile and act nice.

As a sociopath in The Deed, I cease to exist as an individual, a character, a personality -- I am nothing but a conduit for the kill, a malleable persona that changes depending on the situation and plan. I am not a person, I am only a means to an end.

The Deed is available on Steam for $0.99.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.