The latest Netflix Original horror film, “Choose or Die,” has a wonderfully strange premise that recalls ’80s and ’90s genre films. I was ecstatic as someone who grew up in that era and adored the filmmakers who examined growing technology and inquired whatnightmares they might generate from it. That euphoria didn’t last long.
Of course, the main template here is “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and not simply because there’s a poster of it hanging on the wall in the opening scene. However, it also harkens back to an era of “terrifying technology” horror movies like “Ghost in the Machine,” “Shocker,” and others, as well as Robert Englund’s voice talents. The issue is that this type of surreal horror necessitates a lot of visual flair, and director Toby Meakins just isn’t able to provide any.
“Choose or Die” required a Craven or a Cronenberg, visual geniuses with an ability to run wild with such a preposterous concept and make their ideas feel almost savage. “Choose or Die” fails to live up to its truly delusional promise until the final ludicrous act. It’s a decision that’ll soon be forgotten without it.
Iola Evans stars as Kayla, a college student whose mother is on the brink of bankruptcy and who is in debt herself. Isaac (Asa Butterfield), her best friend and a programmer, isn’t exactly a romantic lead but clearly likes Kayla enough to create a character after her in his new game.
Kayla, however, comes upon an ancient ’80s video game called “Curs>r,” which was also the film’s original title. Cursor is a text-based adventure game from the early PC days in which users input words to advance the plot. “Yes or no?” That sort of thing.
In “Choose or Die,” Kayla discovers that the game has a cash prize that has never been claimed, tying in with a popular subculture of people who seek lost video games. However, this is an exception. It adapts to what’s going on in the room with Kayla, and every level generally leads to bloodshed and a screen saying “CHOOSE OR DIE” all over again. Let’s just say that Kayla plays the first level at a diner and it results in a broken glass-eating waitress. It isn’t really “Tetris.”
Freddy Krueger, the “Nightmare” films’ protagonist, shattered reality in much the same way that “Curs>r” does. Kayla is frequently sent to distant places or puts those around her in danger when Freddy Krueger appears. The terror, on the other hand, has no real structure. Freddy was frightening because he had the ability to enter your dreams. That’s something we can all relate to. We’ve all had nightmares before. “Choose or Die” often has a sense of improvised self-creation about it.”
It’s the difference between having a nightmare of your own and hearing about someone else’s. To capture your attention, a film like “Choose or Die” must either go off the rails in its hallucinatory visuals or establish some rules for viewers and protagonists to follow. Meakins and Simon Allen can’t make up their minds, which causes the film to lack in confidence and flair.
Budget may have been part of the issue. Because a lot of darkness and dry ice hide much of the action, as well as a lot of the violence happening off-screen, it’s possible that a greater visual eye would have compensated for lack of funds more than anything else. It’s a strangely dull film until the final act, when things get really strange in an amazing way (of course, MVP Eddie Marsan). At least the film has an excellent soundtrack by Liam Howlett from Prodigy that places it in the ’80s horror techno movement. Still, you might want to pick up “Videodrome” again instead.
On CinemaHD v2 today or Netflix
Choose or Die (2022)
Asa Butterfield as Isaac
Iola Evans as Kayla
Eddie Marsan as Hal
Robert Englund as Robert Englund
Kate Fleetwood as Laura
Ryan Gage as Lance
Angela Griffin as Thea
Joe Bolland as Beck
Writer (story by)
Matthew James Wilkinson
Movie Rating: 2.0/5