Netflix's Choose or Die takes the fun out of a great video game

Netflix’s Choose or Die takes the fun out of a great video game

Early on in Netflix’s proudly derivative new horror film Choose or die, a mother brandishing a kitchen knife bickers with her teenage son about his father’s obsession with the 1980s. The reclusive father (Eddie Marsan) hides in his man cave, a room filled with retro game consoles. He sees his vintage computer flickering green until a question pops up: ‘His tongue or her ears? Choose or die.” What initially seems like a morbid role-playing game turns into a terrifying reality: the option he chooses will culminate in an actual punishment inflicted on his wife or son.

The fetishization of the 1980s – the trends and pop culture, especially movies and music – is recalibrated for terrifying purposes in Toby Meakins’ Choose or die† Unlike, say Ready Player OneSimon Allen’s light script doesn’t fully worship on the altar of the decade. Of course, overt references to A nightmare on Elm Street, Gary Newman, and industrial music artist Fad Gadget proliferate throughout the film. Liam Howlett of The Prodigy even provides the film’s synth score. But Meakins and Allen set out to question the innate horrors of living solely in the past. It’s a clever lesson obscured by a kitschy script that feels like Allen is having too much fun with his self-perceived importance.

In its basic functions, the premise is an even more nightmarish view of jumanjic† Three months after the film’s opening events, Kayla (Iola Evans) leaves her cleaning job to clean up an empty office building aptly named “Kismet”. She is a recent school leaver, a motherboard and programming expert looking for a job in programming while caring for her ailing mother, who is addicted to unspecified illegal drugs. The couple hasn’t been the same since Kayla’s young brother drowned in the local swimming pool. When Kayla isn’t home, she hangs out with fellow programmer and game designer, the shy, enamored Isaac (Asa Butterfield).

Eddie Marsan in his dim, barely noticeable device-filled man cave in Choose or Die

Photo: Cursr Films

While sifting through Isaac’s recent flea market acquisitions, Kayla discovers an old game called “Course>R† It promises a top prize of $125,000 for the winner. When she calls the hotline, she is greeted by the voice of Nightmare in Elm Street star Robert Englund, who plays himself in a cameo. Kayla believes the defunct game can still make money, fixes it and plays it, leading to a confluence of horrific events that endanger her and everyone around her.

After 84 minutes, Choose or die is an exciting film that rests on solid, solid stories. Evans, a surprising newcomer, gives Kayla a rich inner life. She’s a bundle of stress and exhaustion, all worked out over her hardened face. Her performance begs for other components around her to feel similarly elevated, a request the film can’t fulfill due to its frustrating simplicity. In that regard, one of the film’s biggest offenders is the wimpy character Lance (Ryan Gage), who may work in the building, may have a sexual relationship with Kayla’s mother, and is certainly her dealer, but languish as a cartoonish garbage predator who barely feigns credibility.

Given the film’s small ensemble and scale—there are only a few sets, which probably made pandemic shooting easier—the relationship between Kayla and Isaac must carry the story. But their weak interpersonal dynamics begrudged credibility. For example, in a restaurant, Kayla taps the Course>R game. As she plays, she notices how it can distort reality through her gameplay choices, causing a waitress to swallow glass. (The ASMR sound design in this scene is stomach-turning.)

The incident leaves her shocked and desperate for answers about the game’s origins. When a confused Isaac promises to find answers, she sneezes, “Yeah, go do that. You’re so damn smart.” It’s never clear why she’s so combative. She’s so casually cruel to Isaac that it begs the question of how the two ever met, or how they’re still friends. That flaw leaves the plausibility of a romance between them as a troubling development behind.

Choose or die is best when Allen and Meakins design blissful fears based on Kayla’s grief over her brother’s death. A set, decorated with a blinding mist and green light shocks, is set in an abandoned swimming pool. It contains the film’s best jump scares as the sound takes over the obscured view of the audience. In this terror, which fuels Kayla’s trauma and throws an impossible decision around her brother’s mind, it’s clear how Meakins wants to explain the pitfalls of living in the past, and the way unresolved torments can eat away at people. If the film stayed in this register, it would suffice as a rousing allegory. But Meakins and Allen can’t leave well enough alone.

Ioanna Kimbook as Grace makes a dramatic gesture with outstretched hand in another dimly lit, grimy scene from Netflix's Choose Or Die.

Photo: Cursr Films

The last act of Choose or die flies like a train as the filmmakers try to attach logic to their absurd concept. It’s a strange move, considering that jumanjic, for example, thrives on the inexplicable mystery of the board game’s origins. Instead, the filmmakers attach a sinister backstory to the game that only clouds the mood and tone. They reach further in depth through Kayla’s confrontation with the proverbial boss, a totem version of a frail white man alarmed by society’s increasing appetite for cultural diversity, and the idea that people like him are more barriers to people of color than whites. knights. inside to save the day. “Can’t guys like me be heroes anymore?” he complains. That line lands with a thud in a finale that takes itself way, way too seriously for a movie that offered very little set up for such a large representative statement.

Meakins’ Choose or die could easily be the next grimly fun horror franchise, picking up where the sprawling Saw franchise or the Escape Room movies left off. But the makers’ search for a deeper meaning feels tense and exaggerated, and it overwhelms the adventurous spirit of the first half of the film. In any case, this is a great starting point for Evans, who never wavers, even when everything around her does.

Choose or die streaming on Netflix now.