There are many keys to a good horror movie, but one of the most important ones is how well the premise is set up for the audience. An opening scene sets the tone for everything to come over the next couple of hours, and if you miss the mark there, it’s difficult to recover.
The new Netflix film Choose or Die commits that cardinal sin, throwing viewers directly into a confusing situation in which Hal (Eddie Marsan) hides in his ‘80s-themed man cave while his wife (Kate Fleetwood) and son (Joe Bolland) argue about his obsessions in the next room. He’s playing a game called Curs>r, an ‘80s-style computer game where the player is given choices for what to do next. In this game, however, the choices are diabolical, with no good options, and affect the real world around the player.
The film then switches perspective completely to Kayla (Iola Evans), a cleaner at company called Kismet, and her friend Isaac (Asa Butterfield), a game programmer. Both young people are obsessed with old games and gaming systems, and so when they come across a copy of Curs>r, its lure is irresistible, especially to Kayla. Soon she’s under the game’s control herself, with seemingly no good way out.
Led by first-time feature director Toby Meakins and written by Simon Allen, the film plays out like a mixture between Jumanji, where players become a part of the game they’re playing, and Saw, where the bad guy gives people impossible choices that lead to gory outcomes. The concept is objectively solid and had the potential for a lot of freaky and/or scary situations, but the filmmakers continually drop the ball.
All of the different personal connections in the film are given short shrift, with the filmmakers telling instead of showing why each is good or bad. Consequently, any horrific aspects the film contains are blunted to a degree. They also include odd scenes where, mere minutes after experiencing something that should be life-changing, characters are going about their lives as if nothing happened.
The horror itself is often implied and not shown; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for anyone averse to too much carnage, but it does lessen the impact of whatever evil is possessing the game. While there are moments of intrigue over the film’s 84 minutes, it never truly reaches its potential.
Evans, who only has a few TV credits to her name, manages to impress despite being hampered by the so-so story. Butterfield, a child star now graduating to adult parts, is strangely not given much to do, and makes a poor impression in his relatively short time on screen. Marsan plays creepy well, but he too isn’t allowed much time to show his skills. The filmmakers try a horror homage by having Robert Englund - Freddy Krueger himself – play himself as the voice on a Curs>r phone line, but the reference falls flat.
There are many directions the filmmakers could have taken the storyline of Choose or Die, but the one they chose wound up being one of the least effective. Let other horror aficionados learn their lesson: Start your film strong, or pay the price.
Choose or Die is now streaming on Netflix.