The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Netflix] - CHOOSE OR DIE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Netflix] - CHOOSE OR DIE

choose or die review
A young programmer finds herself manipulated by a sinister retro video game.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Toby Meakins

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Iola Evans, Eddie Marsan, Angela Griffin, Robert Englund, Ryan Gage

choose or die poster

Choose or Die features a prominently displayed poster for Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street in its opening scene. But while Toby Meakins' directorial debut features a voice cameo by Freddy Kreuger himself, Robert Englund, and a crusty-eyed, resilient young heroine, it has more common with the later entries in that horror franchise than with Craven's original. By this I mean it feels largely uninspired and derivative, but occasionally catches the eye with some clever and inventive visuals.

choose or die review

A throwback to the sort of mainstream horror movies that emerged in the 2000s once the post-Scream slasher fad had finally died out, Choose or Die doesn't feature a human villain wielding a knife but rather a curse in the fashion of Final Destination and Ringu. This curse reaches its victim through CURS>R, a 1980s text-based adventure game that possesses supernatural powers.

We see these dark powers demonstrated in the film's arresting opening sequence. Retiring to his nostalgia lined man-cave, fiftysomething Hal (Eddie Marsan) boots up his newly acquired copy of CURS>R and finds that the game is somehow able to manipulate his reality. At first it's a bit of fun, with the game even making bottles of beer magically appear out of thin air, but when Hal is confronted with the ultimatum "Choose or Die," things take a dark turn, leading to his wife being manipulated into losing control of her body and cutting their son's tongue out.

choose or die review

Via her game developer friend Isaac (Asa Butterfield), struggling wannabe programmer Kayla (Iola Evans) finds herself in possession of a copy of CURS>R. The package mentions a cash prize of $125,000 for anyone who can complete the game, and when Kayla calls the phone number provided she's greeted with a message recorded by Robert Englund that appears to suggest the cash prize is still available. When Kayla begins playing the game she finds herself sucked into a nightmare that endangers both herself and those around her. Teaming up with Isaac, she tries to track down the mysterious source of the game and free herself from the curse.

When this latter investigative plotline begins to unspool (that's a pun that will make sense when you watch the movie), the movie begins to resemble a poor cousin of films like Videodrome and The Ring, with its protagonists searching for the root of a sinister broadcast. We have a recent example of a well executed version of this sort of thing in Jacob Gentry's Broadcast Signal Intrusion, which captures the atmospheric retro vibe Choose or Die aims for but falls short of.

choose or die review

If Choose or Die's plot is simply a line to hang its set-pieces on, at least those sequences are imaginative. Meakins cleverly manages to expand his film's world while working to a tight budget by having some sequences play out in the form of 8-bit video game imagery. The movie's best moment sees Kayla try to save her crack addict mom (Angela Griffin) from a giant rat gnawing its way through the walls of their apartment. Rather than showing us the oversized rodent, Meakins visualises this through CURS>R, with Kayla guiding a sprite of her mom away from the jaws of the crudely animated rat (think of the air duct sequence in Ridley Scott's Alien). Later a road trip is visualised in the bird's eye view manner of the classic '80s arcade game Spyhunter. The movie climaxes with a clever sequence in which two people face off only to find that to physically harm their opponent they must inflict wounds upon themselves, though it's a gimmick likely better suited to a Sam Raimi-esque splatstick comedy (I couldn't help but think what Bruce Campbell and Nicolas Cage might have done with this setup).

Like the recent Shudder original The Seed, Choose or Die is a British movie desperately trying to convince us it's American. I'm not sure what the logic behind this is, as I've never heard of Americans refusing to watch British movies (if anything they might be more inclined to watch a movie knowing it's British), but it never convinces, and these movies end up feeling Canadian rather than American, with weather, language and racial dynamics that never feel quite right. One thing that's notably British about Choose or Die is its awareness of class dynamics. Isaac is always asking Kayla if she wants to go to some new eatery or order in food, and knowing she's working on a far lower budget that Isaac, Kayla tries to change the subject. It's a nice touch that an American filmmaker may not have given much thought.

Choose or Die
 is on Netflix now.

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