The Choking Game (Review)
The Choking Game
Lifetime is the fertile crescent of exploitation drama, and The Choking Game is yet another entry into the canon. Once again, a dangerous teen fad threatens the lives of everyone and everything, particularly our main character Taryn. The fad is teens choking themselves, by which they get a brief high when fresh oxygen rushes into their brains. This method has been around for ages, I remember people talking about it when I was in grade school back in the 14th century. But thanks to the power of people writing books about it, and then promoting their books by showing up on news program scare segments, things have taken a life of their own. Unlike things like rainbow parties, people actually do choke themselves, and like much of what teenagers do, it is pretty darn stupid.
The choking game is presented by temptress Nina as the ultimate way to be in control, because if you are in control of your breathing, you are in control of your life. Plus the oxygen high boost gives you lots of self-confidence without the problems that drugs and alcohol bring to the table. It’s basically the perfect way to get high, provided you don’t do it over concrete and fall down and hit your head like a scrub. The way the choking and trust aspects are handled in the film, you could subscribe all sorts of sexual subtext to it, making Taryn and Nina’s secret also a lesbian relationship. Perhaps an alternate title should have been Blue is the Chokest Color
The biggest problem with The Choking Game is it takes a while to get going. We spend a lot of time with Taryn listening to her complain about her life before we get to the choking. When it does get going, it gets pretty fun, even if it is heavy handed (with multiple characters giving multiple speeches about how Taryn changed, most notably Ryder at the party). The Choking Game handles social media well, showing it’s presence with some popups, but not having it be the focus, just an aspect of life.
Forget those facts and things, we’re here for the Lifetime trainwreck spectacle, so let’s bring on the life ruining! It’s choking time! (SPOILERS below for those of you who worry about being spoiled about a Lifetime choking movie!)
Taryn is a teen without motivation or direction, which causes conflict with her overbearing mother Heidi. Heidi is overly involved in planning her daughter’s life, including picking classes for her and getting a job at the school to keep better tabs on her. As you can imagine, this leads to a bit of friction, but it’s not until Taryn has gone full choke crazy that things escalate. For now, we have to be content with Taryn’s constant complaints that she sucks and has no idea what she wants to do with her life and that cute (and now single!) guy Ryder she’s been crushing on forever would totally not want to go out with her, despite him making every excuse to talk to her. There is setting up your teen to be vulnerable, and then there is going overboard into what feels like a therapy session. Taryn’s best friend Elena is the poor victim who has to constantly listen to her friend complain about her life.
The delicate ecosystem that is Choke High School becomes unbalanced with the arrival of a mysterious new girl named Nina. At first, the only thing known about her is delivered by ultrasnob Courtney, the pack leader of a swarm of pretty girls. Courtney assures Taryn that Nina is into something pretty “hardcore”, but she doesn’t know what. Taryn then finds Nina passed out on the floor of the bathroom, but Nina brushes off calling for help. Courtney reappears to give Nina the “Don’t be nice to anyone and you can be my friend” speech, which results in Nina publicly rejecting Courtney in favor of Taryn in class.
Taryn and Nina become close, which means Taryn gets interested in Nina’s cryptic remarks about the mysterious thing she does that makes her brave. This comes to a head with Courtney flirting with Ryder just to make Taryn mad, and soon Nina is introducing Taryn to the wonderful world of choking yourself to get high.
What begins as before school fun soon turns into a choking obsession, with Taryn and Nina choking each other all the freaking time (they get better highs when they choke each other versus choking themselves) and Taryn soon alienating her family and friends as her room gets messy and her grades start slipping. I’m not sure what the choking has to do with any of that, but maybe she’s spending hours each day choking herself instead of reading. The two girls spend all their time talking about choking and how awesome choking is and when they should choke next. There is even choking social networks, including a game that is basically Google Earth, but with everyone who has “checked in” as choking highlighted with a red dot. Choked in? This leads to the hilarious and yet awesome scene where Taryn zooms out to a map of the whole United States, which is blanketed in red dots like a scene from Outbreak, and the dots reflect on Taryn’s face.
Choking ain’t easy, but it sure is fun. The fun soon turns into arguing with everyone and everything, Taryn is on the warpath, screaming at her mom (who, to be fair, is totally invading her privacy at times), screaming at Elena, freaking out Ryder, screaming at Courtney. Things come to a head when at Courtney’s party, first Ryder and then Elena throw out the “Who are you?” line we hear all the time in these films. Ryder even comes back to tell Taryn he was always in love with her, but not any more, because she’s changed. Keep in mind, all Taryn did at this point was grab Ryder at the party and start making out with him and then trying to undo his belt.
Taryn is so freaked she has a fight with Nina and walks home in the snow, where her and her mom finally have a real conversation about how Taryn doesn’t have anything in her life figured out yet and how Heidi’s pushing just makes things worse. Funny how talking to people about problems can help solve them!
The next day, Taryn goes to apologize to Nina, but we see Nina getting carted into an ambulance! Taryn visits her after she’s out of the hospital, Nina having choked and then fallen and hit her head, getting brain damage. Nina’s face is all bruised, she can’t focus or talk. It’s disturbing, but gives time for Taryn to give a whole speech about how she’s sorry that everything spiraled out of control. Taryn makes up to Elena and later Ryder, who seems totally into picking up where they left off, which was in a hallway taking each others clothes off. So now he’s cool with banging her? Way to not be a consistent character, Ryder! Taryn and Ryder will totally get STDs in the sequel!
Time for some CHOKING FACTS! 1 in 16 kids have tried The Choking Game! And 1000 kids die each year, with 74% dying with an adult around. These stats seem inflated, and this report gives 82 deaths between 1995-2007, numbers I trust more. But we also learn one of the alternate names for the choking game is “space monkey”, so anyone who calls it that will probably end up a statistic anyway.
The lesson we all can learn from The Choking Game is don’t choke, unless you’re choking your chicken. At least until the Lifetime movie that makes that dangerous as well.
Rated 5/10 (The Tumblr game, teacher, contemplating, like you can really delete a social media account, choking game is coming for U!)
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