PLOT: After firing up a lost 80s survival horror game, a young coder unleashes a hidden curse. She now has to make terrifying decisions and face deadly consequences.
REVIEW: Choose or Die had quite the battle right from the start: horror movies with a video game element have often had a very tall hill to climb in terms of acceptance. They’re often gimmicky and show a lack of understanding of basic elements of gaming. So it’s refreshing to say that this movie actually delivers an interesting concept and some good performances.
Iola Evans really impresses as Kayla, a programmer who has had a rough upbringing and is now being tormented by this mysterious game, Curs>r. She’s really impresses every time she’s on the screen. Asa Butterfield plays her friend Isaac, and he’s not in it enough. Though his character does provide some of the more humorous moments but those moments don’t happen nearly enough. They’re on a mission to find out more about this video game that’s wreaking havoc on Kayla’s life. While the concept is interesting, the characters aren’t intriguing enough to have you worried about them or their safety.
The concept of forcing people to play a game feels very Saw-like, but the supernatural element certainly gives its own identity. The levels don’t really feel consistently terrifying. Some are absolute no-win scenarios, while others have a pretty clear choice and it’s more psychological torment. Thankfully, the final level is one of the more interesting dilemmas, but it never goes far enough. There’s one instance where we see a scenario happen to Kayla’s mother, but it’s only from a top down perspective featuring simple sprites. This originality shows how unique the film can be when it wants to be. But those moments don’t happen quite enough.
Unfortunately Choose or Die definitely feels rather bland at parts. The actors are all fantastic, but any character that’s not Kayla, feel very one-dimensional. There’s this drug dealer that lives in Kayla’s apartment complex who is targeting her mom. It’s a really strange subplot that almost feels like an after school special. Character actor, Eddie Marsan, plays a small role that ended up being my favorite of the whole movie. The less said about it, the better.
While its only his voice, the inclusion of Robert Englund works absurdly well here. This isn’t too surprising since the film often evokes A Nightmare On Elm Street aesthetic, with the shifting realities and dream-like quality. But they’re not exactly trying to hide all of the similarities between the two films. There’s even a massive Elm Street poster in the film’s opening, which is a surefire wink to the audience.
After directing short films for many years, this is Toby Meakins’ feature film debut and his potential really shines through. Choose or Die is beautifully shot, and utilizes a bright color palette. There is some struggle with tonal balance, where the lighter moments really clash with the darker feel of the rest of the movie, but its nothing egregious. Meakins has a good eye and his future is clearly very bright. The score by Prodigy’s Liam Howlett packs a punch as well. There’s this wonderful utilization of old video game noises with drones and industrial sounds. While I would call it anything but understated, it echoes the work of Charlie Clouser, which I’ve always really enjoyed.
Being rated TV-MA (which technically makes this a TV movie), it’s pretty disappointing that it doesn’t go very far with the gore. I’m by no means a gore fiend, but the concept really seems to be setting up for that. Though I suppose that means they’re able to avoid the “torture porn” label that was so prevalent in the late 2000’s. But there are more than a few instances where the horror would have been ramped up with a little more blood.
With its relatively short runtime, and its clear love for all things Elm Street, Choose or Die is easy to recommend. It’s imaginative and has a great performance from Iola Evans at the lead. While I wish it had gone a little further with the consequences, I’m glad they at least got the video game content right. And with the great world-building, a sequel could really take advantage of some of the missed opportunities here. Though that’s one choice, that is left up to the viewer.
Choose or Die is now available to stream on Netflix!