It’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie that just hasn’t worked for me. 2022 has so far been a good year for movies. I feel as if I have watched one movie after another that I’ve liked.
Well, that streak has come to an end with CHOOSE OR DIE (2022), a new horror movie on Netflix that is pretty much the first “bad” movie I’ve seen this year.
CHOOSE OR DIE actually has a fairly interesting premise, as it’s about an old 1980s video game discovered in the here and now, and when it’s dusted off and played, it has more than just fun and games in store for its players.
The movie even gets off to an exhilarating start when we meet disgruntled Hal (Eddie Marsan) being a hermit in his home, hiding from his arguing wife and son. Hal is something of a 1980s connoisseur, collecting odds and ends from the decade and obviously still wishing he were living in the age of big hair and Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies. Hal recently added the forgotten video game “Choose or Die” to his collection, and when he plays it, he finds that bizarre things start happening in real time. When asked the question, “Her ear or his tongue?”— choose or die!— he sees images on the screen which calls to mind his wife and son. As he runs to check on them, he discovers his wife with a knife and his son bleeding profusely from his mouth.
The action then switches to friends Kayla (Iola Evans) and Isaac (Asa Butterfield). Kayla lives in a rundown apartment with her ailing mother, depressed over the drowning death of her son and Kayla’s brother, and Kayla rather than pursuing her college education is working odd jobs to support her mother. She also finds and brings old computer components to Isaac who refurbishes them and pays her for her troubles. Of course, among the stuff which Kayla brings Isaac is a copy of Choose or Die, and when they activate it, yes, strange things begin to happen. It seems this cursed video game has the ability to affect reality and maim and kill people in the process. How does it do this? Well, it’s a cursed video game, silly! The movie offers nothing more in explanation than that.
As Kayla and Isaac attempt to survive and figure out how to defeat the game, they eventually find Hal and learn from him that as part of the deal to save his family, he had to make copies of the game and send them out into the world. So watch out! Choose or Die could be coming to a yard sale near you!
I enjoyed the premise of this one, but the movie does absolutely nothing with it other than provide an upbeat electronic 80s music score by Liam Howlett, which for me, was the best part of the movie.
The screenplay by Simon Allen, Matthew James Wilkinson, and director Toby Meakins introduces the cursed video game idea and then struggles to make sense of it and worse, take full advantage of it. No explanation is given other than the game is cursed. How it can affect reality is never explained. You just have to suspend disbelief. I would be willing to do this if everything else about this one was firing on all cylinders, but that isn’t the case.
The story also suffers from “it was just a dream syndrome.” Not that anything that happens here is just a dream, but the end effect is the same. For instance, when Kayla sits in a lonely diner, and the game takes over reality, awful things begin to happen to the waitress, as she begins to chew on broken glass and can’t stop, but before we see how this scene ultimately plays out, the action cuts away, and we find Kayla in bed waking up. No, it wasn’t a dream, but we never learn what really happens to that waitress other than she was “injured.” In short, the film sets up some gruesome scenes but never goes for the jugular. And I’m not talking about not showing us graphic scenes of violence, but rather, not allowing the audience to feel the pain of the moment. A lot of emotion is lost in this one as scenes end before they should, and the audience is spared, akin to waking up from a nightmare.
The characters really aren’t developed, other than Kayla, and her story isn’t all that interesting. Yes, she is supporting her ill mother, and this is commendable, but there’s just not much there.
The explanation regarding the origin of the curse behind Choose or Die is ambiguous, not that exciting, and ultimately unsatisfying.
Iola Evans is okay in the lead role as Kayla, but she doesn’t have a lot to work with as she’s pretty much a one note character. The same can be said for Asa Butterfield as Isaac, who’s looking all grown up here. I still picture him as the young lead in Martin Scorsese’s HUGO (2011).
The best performance in the movie belongs to Eddie Marsan with his brief stint as Hal, the man who is in love with the 1980s, but it’s not much more than a cameo. Marsan is a terrific actor who has been memorable in such films as THEIR FINEST (2016) and ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) to name just a couple.
And in the most inspired bit of casting, Robert Englund, Freddy Krueger himself, plays himself here, as Englund provides a promo voice for the game. Sadly, Englund never actually appears in the movie.
Director Toby Meakins sets up some frightening scenes, but none of them go for the throat. A couple come close, like the chewing on glass sequence, but for the most part the scares just don’t come through as frighteningly as one would expect.
The biggest knock against this one though is its video game curse just doesn’t hold water. The game may be able to change reality, but as a plot point, it has no basis in reality.
Compared to the subtle and superior MASTER (2022) which I saw earlier this year, CHOOSE OR DIE is an inferior and ineffective horror movie that doesn’t even work as a 1980s’ homage, as the story takes place in the here and now.
When it comes to CHOOSE OR DIE, the choice is easy.
A different movie.