In recent years, the major studios seem to have plunged headlong into the final decades of the last century to rescue a long-lost nostalgia in the audiovisual industry, perhaps as a way of creating a trend these days, perhaps to introduce new generations to an aesthetic that is no longer remembered. As an example, we had the recent futuristic adventure ‘Player No. 1’from Steven Spielbergwhich built a cluster of references to the culture popor the retro action ‘Explosive Cocktail’which brought Karen Gillan, Lena Headey in a quite fun fighting frenzy, despite the script sin. Now it’s time for the Netflix to invest efforts in a horror production entitled ‘Choose or Die’which, like many titles on the platform, is so firmly rooted in conventionalism that it’s hard to find anything useful.
To be fair, the premise and the first half of the film starts from a place familiar enough for us to buy into the story and watch what happens. The plot is centered Kayla (Iola Evans), a young tech-savvy girl who dropped out of college for a variety of family and personal reasons. Now she works odd jobs as a window cleaner and eventually crosses paths with an old 1980s game called‘CURS>R – finding the opportunity to earn some solid cash and save her and her mother from being evicted. But, as we can imagine, things don’t go as planned and the game, in fact, is a receptacle of something evil that controls the reality it knows and leads it to make tragic decisions to reach the living end.
If you found the story similar to other productions, do not be alarmed: after all, it seems that we are dealing with an uneven mix of ‘Deadly Games’ e ‘Unfriended’ whose only originality is based on the entertainment creations of the past decades – in a metadiegetic architectural nostalgia that is marked in the imagery choices and the director’s conduct. Toby Meakins, for example. However, the scattered good intentions are worth nothing when faced with a terrible script that does not live up to absolutely any of the plots transposed to the screen; as if that wasn’t enough, the main character and Evans’ performance sound disconnected, falling apart at a common point for both and creating two different layers between them that, in the end, make no sense.
Kayla suffers from not knowing what to do with her life; however, she also faces dilemmas at home, with the recent death of her younger brother and her mother’s growing dependence on drugs, as well as the sexual and physical abuse she suffers from the collector at the housing center where they live. As if that wasn’t drastic enough, she finds herself reflecting on the choices she’s made (like dropping out of college) and only finds comfort in the friendship she has with Isaac (Asa Butterfieldwhose talent is wasted in this filmic mess), a programmer passionate about video games.
Meakins’ idea and the script by Simon Allen it is to follow the reflexive trend of so many other similar titles that have come out in recent years – that is, to present certain social criticisms metaphorized by dialogues with terror and the supernatural. THE game forces players to make impossible choices that deal with the values of each of the characters – or, in this case, just Kayla’s – such as the sequence where she faces her late brother’s ghost and must choose to save either him or Isaac. However, if secondary messages were hiding behind an overexposed facade, they definitely did not appear as they should and only gave rise to weak metaphysical impulses about human ambition. And the superficial explanations provided by Allen don’t help us to create any bond with the narrative, which culminates in disposable characters and elusive motivations.
Several occasions are forgotten in favor of a horror and a gore that don’t work: Isaac’s death is laughable and, combined with Kayla’s overreaction, throws the drama out of the film and leaves a bittersweet taste of shame; the family that appears at the beginning of the story and that returns for a mediocre ending could be better used (even more because it represents the last phase of the game), but it is driven by meaningless dialogues and an inexplicable conclusion within the weakened mythology created. Okay, there are some scenes that are really well choreographed, like the restaurant and the rat attack – however, not so much as to overshadow the constant slips.
‘Choose or Die’ it had all the elements to at least be cheap weekend entertainment. The result goes against the grain and joins Netflix’s never-ending list of forgettable titles, touching on a kind of philosophical pedantry that shouldn’t even exist and emulating so many better works that it feels like we’re watching a low-budget movie shot like a indecipherable satire.