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Movie Review

Release Date: 04/15/22
Genre: Drama/Horror/Thriller

Studio: Netflix


"After firing up a lost 80s survival horror game, a young coder unleashes a hidden curse that tears reality apart, forcing her to make terrifying decisions and face deadly consequences."


Netflix’s latest original horror production, Choose or Die, directed by Toby Meakins, is another attempt to revive the choose-your-adventure horror genre that has been around for years. Films like Stay Alive (2006), Would You Rather (2012) and Nerve (2016) have been running with the idea of being imprisoned in video games that force you to make binary decisions to survive. This time, we follow the journey of down-on-her-luck programmer Kayla, as she tries to run the 125 thousand dollar gambit that is Curs>r, a retro-videogame that manipulates reality and operates to terrify.


Written by Simon Allen, Toby Meakins, and Matthew James Wilkinson, Choose or Die trips into many familiar tropes of B-Movie horror. Those tropes start from the ground up, through its shallow characters with limited complexity. Take Kayla (played by Iola Evans), a broke college dropout. The film slowly adds layers to her character through the reveal of her tortured mother and dead younger brother. However, these events only make for a justified Kayla; someone we root for as an underdog in spite of the events occuring on screen. When her actions become morally complex, we don’t truly care because we don’t know Kayla. We know about her past, but we don’t understand her emotionally, psychologically, or morally. And that leads to an uninteresting story that can’t grip an audience. This isn’t helped by the lackluster performances populating the film. Iola Evans has a lot of work to do to keep us engaged with the character, and while her physical performance has nuance, her line delivery doesn’t sell the story. Asa Butterfield, who plays Kayla’s programmer friend Isaac, suffers the opposite problem of Evans. His line delivery works, but his physical performance feels unguided and aloof. These two make up the majority of the film’s runtime, and that is a problem. Some of the supporting actors give solid performances, but their appearances are more akin to a cameo than a true role.


Most of this story is told through short-hand; the drug-dealer is bad because he preys on Kayla and her mom. The company is bad because they lay off people without a care in the world. Kayla is good because shes the main character. It’s messy and uninteresting; and the story doesn’t seem interested in these characters. What the story does seem interested in is explaining its premise; by diving into the history of the mysterious video-game, Curs>r. And while that could be an interesting idea, its history doesn’t have the depth to warrant it as the main focus of the film. Over-explained premises are never good in horror films, and this is another example of why.


Choose or Die isn’t a complete mess though. While it’s characters are shallow, there are sequences that manage to be anxiety inducing and terrifying. These scares are propelled by the powerful score, created by Liam Howlett. It’s 8-bit style is the closest Choose or Die gets to fully exploring it’s premise, and manages to instill terror through it’s rythm. When combined with the sound mix by Sara Lima and Jonathan Rush, the films terror comes to the foreground.


But for as good as those scares can be, the rest of the film seems to be littered with poor design and cheap thrills. Thanks to the heightened role of the sound design and score, its absence often leaves scenes emotionless and dead. And the visual’s aren’t used to build suspense either. There is an attempt at visual storytelling, through the flat colour palette and over-exposed light that accompanies sequences during the day, but it isn’t furthered by the costume or production design. The film's attempts for a grungy look are too dry to be disgusting, and the lack of commitment to a single design holds the scares back considerably.


The other issue introduced by this design is the predictability of horror. Aside from the plot, the scares are made too obvious to the audience. This is caused by the writing, which limits Curs>r to only coming to life at 2am. Because of this, the film needs more tension between each night to hold audience engagement. However, the film fails to develop the side-characters that populate the day, and only relies on clearly telegraphed jumpscares to keep the days scary.


In conclusion, Choose or Die is yet another horror thud of the 2000’s. Its failures as a film are only made more clear by its moments of genius. Its lack of engaging characters, and its limited plot, fail to deliver on its intriguing premise. It may be doomed to be lost to the sands of time, waiting to be watched by someone else 40 years from now.

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