El Paso, Elsewhere Is the One Game I Actually Want to See in Movie Theaters

A match made in hell.

screenshot from El Paso Elsewhere
Strange Scaffold

If you don’t believe that the most affecting tale of abuse, addiction, and recovery last year came from a video game about shooting vampires, you probably haven’t played El Paso, Elsewhere. The avant garde shooter from Strange Scaffold packed an emotionally raw story into its Max Payne-inspired shell, and now Hollywood is taking notice. El Paso, Elsewhere may soon get a film adaptation, courtesy of Academy Award nominee LaKeith Stanfield.

Stanfield is currently in talks to produce and star in an El Paso, Elsewhere adaptation, Deadline reports. Stanfield was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Judas and the Black Messiah, and has also appeared in acclaimed films including Sorry to Bother You and Get Out.

LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah) is in talks to produce and star in an adaptation of El Paso, Elsewhere, according to Deadline.


Beyond that, there’s no word on possible timing or the rest of the cast, but even without further detail, the sheer possibility of an El Paso, Elsewhere film is intriguing. The game tells the story of James Savage, a man hunting his vampire ex-girlfriend, Janet (aka Draculae) before she can complete a ritual that will destroy the world. His quest plays out in a series of bloody levels with shooting mechanics borrowed from Max Payne and a neo-noir tone to match. Between and within levels, Savage monologues and slips into reverie, recalling his relationship with Draculae and explaining how things got so bad.

It’s Savage’s presence and his former relationship that make El Paso, Elsewhere such tempting material for a film adaptation. Both written and voiced by the game’s director, Xalavier Nelson Jr., Savage poetically recounts the abuse he suffered at the hands of Draculae, as well as his struggles with addiction. He’s one of the most nuanced video game characters in recent memory, combining his deadset determination to stop Draculae with a raw vulnerability wholly at odds with typical shooter protagonists.

There is, in fact, nothing typical about Savage or El Paso, Elsewhere. Earlier this year, I spoke to Nelson about the difficulty of depicting a Black survivor of abuse who’s battling addiction without playing into harmful stereotypes.

El Paso, Elsewhere is a profoundly personal tale about escaping abuse and addiction.

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“Having a story starring a strong Black character who nonetheless experienced abuse let us tell a story you otherwise wouldn't be able to depict,” Nelson said. “At every step, we had to think, ‘Okay, he's Black. How is that going to impact how players might see him and how do we have to work around it?’”

El Paso, Elsewhere is focused on its hero’s internal struggles as well as his voice in a way that many games are not. Even with the end of the world looming, El Paso, Elsewhere is a character study and a portrait of a toxic relationship above all else. While those are subjects often avoided in mainstream games, they’re more commonly explored in films. And given the strength of Savage’s character, Stanfield has a much more complex role to embody than the typical action game protagonist might provide.

To adapt most games into movies, studios need to make massive changes to how their stories are told. In recent hits like The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Sonic the Hedgehog, that means making up an entirely new story for games that essentially have none. Even the recently announced Dredge adaptation runs into the same issue. While it does have an interesting story, it’s told by players discovering events on their own. A cosmic horror tale set on a fishing boat is a compelling premise, but the jump to film fundamentally alters the audience’s relationship to the story by turning them from actively embodying the protagonist to passively observing them.

El Paso, Elsewhere’s story seems perfectly suited to being adapted without losing any of its bite.

Strange Scaffold

El Paso, Elsewhere doesn’t have that problem. Remove its gameplay entirely and you’re still left with an excellent story diving into the psychology of a fascinating character. It’s hard to imagine the game’s compassionate take on surviving both addiction and relationship abuse being harmed by the fact that viewers won’t have a controller in their hands as they watch it unfold.

The process of adapting an interactive story into a static one inevitably changes it. That’s part of why I’ve never had much interest in video game adaptations. They tend to either use popular games for name recognition while delivering a totally unrelated experience, or just change the game’s story so much they become a completely different thing.

But as an indie game, El Paso, Elsewhere is a whole different beast. Rather than a name brand to tie a blockbuster series to, El Paso, Elsewhere is a story so good it has to be experienced again. Free of the constraints of AAA game design and the pressure to conform to an IP, it’s a wildly experimental take on a deeply human story that points to the power of the indie development scene. Even beyond its suitability for adaptation, El Paso, Elsewhere is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever heard on finding a good life beyond addiction and abuse, and I can’t wait for it to reach more people.

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