TAG24's Take: Netflix's Choose or Die makes horror gaming a reality
Netflix released its latest original horror movie Choose or Die on Friday, combining gaming and scares into one new flick. But does it manage to avoid the black hole of mediocrity that so many other films in the horror genre fall into? Perhaps not so much.
One of the most appealing things about video games is that they present an alternate take on reality, allowing players to dive headfirst into worlds full of decisions that distract us from our real life and often mundane existences.
You can slay dragons, blow things up, and kill your friends without leaving your couch or being arrested.
Now imagine that alternate world merging with your reality, and your actions and choices having real world consequences. Sure, it wouldn't be so bad if we were playing Mario Kart, but what if it was a survival horror game – and your life was actually on the line?
This is the basic premise in the streaming giant's newest horror release, Choose or Die. Kayla, played by Iola Evens, is an angsty 20-something college dropout whose life is full of despair. Her mom's a drug addict, her younger brother is dead, and her mom's dealer seems to get off by harassing Kayla for no apparent reason. If anyone deserves an escape from reality, it's her.
So when Kayla and her best friend Isaac, who has a cringy-as-hell crush on her, stumble on a 1980s computer cassette game called CURS>R that promises a $250,000 prize upon completion, they go all in. Little do they know that this game blurs the line between 8-bit horror and reality, presenting players with terrifying real life consequences for their choices.
With a plot that isn't exactly original, we pressed play on Choose or Die, and dove in to see if horror fans get an experience they won't soon forget.
Choose or Die has a lot of redeeming qualities from the start, but it's unfortunately not enough to save the film from falling into mediocrity.
Let's start with the good: Director Toby Meakins does a great job of bringing his gaming vision to the big screen. There is an obvious attention to detail to the general aesthetic of the film, making it dark and gloomy at all the right moments.
His use of color and lighting in certain scenes is well done, and the sets, such as Hal's game room in the beginning, give off an almost cyberpunk vibe.
While the 8-bit video game cut-scenes spliced throughout the film may be annoying and pointless at times, they do help give life to the "80s video game becoming reality" concept.
The cast is also outstanding. Iola Evans as Kayla is incredibly charming and likeable, even with the angsty going-nowhere-fast rebel she portrays being a bit of a cliché. Asa Butterfield as Issac makes for the perfect support, and his on-screen chemistry with Evans is awkward and charming at the same time. Eddie Marson also has a small role that manages to be weird and creepy in a way that only an actor of his caliber can pull off.
Yet, their skills fall prey to the film's missteps.
The not-so-good, and the not-so-horrifying
Now for the bad.
Choose or Die starts strong, with the CURS>R game presenting levels of different "challenges". The first challenge has a waitress on her knees eating bits of glass that she's shattered on the floor of a small diner. It makes you anxiously wonder what else this movie has in store and builds you up with hope – only to let you down.
The levels, instead of getting more shocking and gruesome, become less imaginative and more forgiving as they go on. The horror aspect of the film seems to diminish rather than pick up as it moves forward, making the flick's second half feel incredibly anticlimactic and boring.
I wanted to like this film so badly. I found myself really liking Kayla, and was even invested into her backstory. But as that backstory took the reins in leading the film's plot entirely, it felt flat overall, and I found myself not caring anymore.
The movie is also riddled with plot holes and ideas that aren't fleshed out well. For example, Lance the drug dealer seems to harass Kayla for no reason other than the fact that he's, well, a drug dealer. And the ending seems to make the argument that all drug dealers are bad, and they deserve to die. Huh?
The film also attempts to inject some social commentary at the end that falls short, and the film's ending leaves viewers with way more questions than answers – but not in a good way. We aren't given a solid reason why the unique game was created, why Kayla was the chosen one, or how her employment at Kizmat plays any kind of role.
While Choose or Die is definitely not a bad movie, it unfortunately is nothing to write home about. Fans of the genre may enjoy it as a late-night thrill, but viewers won't miss much by pressing skip.
Cover photo: Netflix