Written by: Matt Patti | June 10th, 2021
Queen of Spades (Patrick White, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Urban Legends are a hot topic in films today, with many features focusing on more and more obscure but intriguing tales from around the world that lend themselves to the horror genre. In director Patrick White’s Queen of Spades, he explores what many refer to as the “Russian version of Bloody Mary,” the popular American legend said to be summoned by saying Mary’s name three times in the mirror of a dark bathroom. The Queen of Spades can be conjured in a similar fashion, in which one must draw, using lipstick, a door and some stairs on a mirror. Then, participants in the ritual must order her to show herself by saying her name three times. If performed correctly, the specter will appear and grant one wish. However, the Queen of Spades is not always in the mood to grant wishes, and sometimes instead feels like harming those who have summoned her. White’s film follows a group of friends who experience the latter outcome, to unsettling, though sometimes predictable, results.
The film begins with a group of four teens sitting outside, staring at a man on a rooftop; he jumps, killing himself. However, before he passes, he utters the words “Queen of Spades.” The friends end up researching the Queen of Spades online and find instructions on how to play. They say that the youngest of the group must be the one to perform the ritual, so 13-year-old Anna (Ava Preston, Shazam!) is put up to the task. Seemingly unsuccessful at first, the group carries on with their lives as normal. Soon, however, they all begin to report disturbing visions and strange events occurring around them. Could the Queen of Spades be real?
Queen of Spades is exactly what you would expect by reading the film’s description. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on the viewer’s expectations, but for me, I feel that, as a horror film, it does what it is supposed to do, which is to frighten viewers with suspense and authentic scares. The film succeeds at this, and therefore I enjoyed it. It’s not a very original story, and horror fans have seen similar plots time and time again. But, in my humble opinion, that doesn’t matter here. The film effectively builds suspense and uses disturbing imagery to great effect. There are quite a number of jump-scares, but the majority of them are genuinely scary and clever, many of them sending chills down my spine. The design of the Queen of Spades herself, while not anything innovative, is creepy enough to make the viewer almost not want to see her and dread her presence on the screen, in an eerily positive way.
Sadly, the film has some frustrating issues outside of its well-done horror aspects. The exposition and backstory of the Queen of Spades, while compelling, is rushed through near the beginning, and then small bits are added on to the legend haphazardly as the film goes on. There are a number of predictable jump-scares and outcomes that one can see coming from a mile away, but thankfully this is offset by the many other quality scares. The performances seem to get better as the film goes along, but in the first act the acting is underwhelming, likely due to poorly written dialogue that plagues much of the first 30 minutes. The film also uses text transitions to tell the audience what day it is, but it is not valuable or important at all to the film to know the day of the week in which certain scenes happen, and therefore it is actually a bit distracting and unnecessary.
Overall, Queen of Spades is a surprisingly effective paranormal horror film. It has its fair share of issues and definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel. However, its effective build of tension and thrilling sequences satisfy. In the end, if a horror film does what it sets out to do (i.e., frighten), then I can forgive some shortcomings elsewhere. Yes, you’ve seen stories like this many times before, but does that make it any less fun when it’s done well? Personally, I still enjoy a good horror film that can do its job right, regardless of how innovative or unique it is.