meOddly enough, the mostly tolerable silly horror Choose or Die was a takeover rather than a local Netflix original, given how algorithmically-styled it is for a well-known formula-obsessed platform. It stars Asa Butterfield, an inner star thanks to the success of Sex Education. It’s a contemporary set but baked in ’80s nostalgia, something that also inspires the aesthetic of the aforementioned sitcom as well as the entirety of the long-running Stranger Things series. It’s also focused on a cursed video game, which brings it very close to Bandersnatch’s interactive Black Mirror smash hit. It’s a movie destined to live out its days in an “if you want” container.
It’s probably fine there as fans of the above might find enough here to play with them although, like me, they might be a little surprised at how bad this fast-paced horror can be, paying more attention to the blood quotient than any level of creativity. It’s part of the damned technical subgenre that expanded after the success of Gore Verbinski’s surprisingly effective Ringu rework, which was later renamed The Ring. It spawned similarly remakes of Asian horror films, such as One Missed Call, Pulse, and Shutter, and then also a string of American imitators, such as Feardotcom, Unfriended, and Stay Alive, a 2006 failure that saw a group of teens play a deadly video clip. Game. We’re in similar territory, but somewhat more efficient, here with the discovery of a dusty ’80s game called CURS>R (the film’s original title), which forces players to make real life-or-death decisions.
She was found by ’80s obsessive Isaac (Butterfield), spurred on by the idea that the $125,000 prize money might still be unclaimed and alluring more by the recorded voice of Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, at the end of the hotline. His girlfriend and affectionate subject, Kayla (relatively newcomer Eola Evans) was less convinced, but living on the bread line made her willing to seize the opportunity, struggling to make pennies for the cleaners. and so it begins.
What is it mysteriously What’s refreshing about this admittedly annoying setting is that Kayla isn’t practically scolded on the hips she might have been in another, more tacky version of this story but the one who runs the game herself to play. She is as tech-savvy as Isaac and the main hero of the movie. The game’s first encounter sees Kayla playing at an empty dinner, forced to watch a cute waitress eat the glass in front of her. It’s a pretty nasty scene, automatically thrusting us into the vicinity of torture porn we’re in, far from what we were expecting (there’s a whiff of superior Escape Room movies here that are firmly in the PG-13 universe).
But while the blood is impressively deep and well perceived, the rest of it is just a few steps away. It’s an overwhelmingly British movie, shot in London with a local cast (there’s a dashing Eddie Marsan appearance while also featuring Angela Griffin), grotesquely set in an unnamed American town, forcing everyone into the sometimes hilarious lousy bit. Ay-meh- reek-uhn dialects. It’s a bewildering misstep, obviously for commercial reasons, that adds a layer of hobby to the powerfully directed first feature of Britt Toby Mikens. It doesn’t make enough use of its reality-altering game sequences (the Veil Englund’s voice serves to remind us just how wild Wes Craven brought those nightmares back when) but it’s a cut above the average Netflix guff genre.
The script, from TV writer Simon Allen, mostly serves as a pedestrian framework for the game’s scenes, which thankfully reach a lot. Plot details don’t really mean anything or don’t make sense, even for the time being, but that won’t matter much to sleepers, who will be distracted by the nasty noise of it all. Don’t you understand how the malevolent curse relates to the game code? Who cares, here’s a teenager eating his arm! In choosing between tenacity and ruthlessness, winning is easy.