When the synopsis for Choose or Die was released, it reverberated the feeling of a hybrid between Saw and Escape Room. As one dives deeper into the curse, the film proves itself to be rich with horror influences throughout its core. As Untraceable, Get Out and even horror royalty Robert England runs through its veins, Choose or Die becomes less of a choice and more of a must see. And while not an instant horror classic, giving in to its at times predictable storyline and faults in believability, it definitely proves itself a worthy player.
Choose or Die delivers an expected opening within a horror film, the evil presented early on. As the film settles on a modern home in the seclusion of the woods, we find mother Laura (Kate Fleetwood) and son Gabe (Pete MacHale) yelling at one another – Gabe mouthing off to his mother, Laura yelling and waving a knife around in response. We know that the knife will be important, as there is never just a butchers knife shown in a film. As Choose or Die moves away from mother and son, the camera settles on Hal (Eddie Marsan) peering through a crack in the door before returning to his man cave.
As we take in the room, it is darkly lit, the only source of light coming from his computer screen and the wall lighting that illuminates his various retro collections. You feel the detachment he has created between himself and his family, the isolation a sense of comfort. As he launches “Curs>r”, he is presented with Level One, a series of simple “this or that” questions revealing that reality is not only cursed but out of our control. His choices escalate quickly until he is left with a decision he refuses to make – the computer informs him if he does not choose, he will die.
It is an effective beginning, the opening credits throwing the game into the background as the game’s players are announced to the audience. As the 80s-themed score accompanies the coded visuals, we as viewers are left with our own questions. Choose or Die to this point has challenged our idea of reality, especially in a horror setting, taking away the element of rules and parameters we would not only expect but plan on. In this moment, the confusion left in the opening’s wake leaves the door open for anything to walk in.
As we start into the meat of the film, Choose or Die settles on Kayla (Iola Evans) as she is leaving her overnight job. As she makes her way to her friend Isaac’s (Asa Butterfield) home and eventually her own, we come to quickly understand the challenges she faces in her daily life. A school dropout, she is struggling to not only be hired for the programming job she dreams of, but to get herself and her mother out of the quickly degrading neighborhood that threatens their well-being. Facing eviction and fighting off unwanted advances from the local drug dealer, Kayla seems to be running out of time.
But a retro game peaks her interest, her friend Isaac having found it at a clearance sale. Promising a reward of $125,000, Kayla launches Curs>r, setting a devastating game into motion.
Crafting a Choice
Honestly, it is surprising how enjoyable a film Choose or Die is. While it does lend itself to predictability, these moments where you know what is going to happen next, the film takes it one step further and in a direction unexpected. As the choices are presented, there is the feeling of a Leprechaun playing tricks on its participants, each choice having its own ambiguity in meaning and purpose. This or that is never as clear as it seems, hidden meanings and actions keeping the intensity and uncertainty of the direction of the film strong.
The film is light on its gore overall, utilizing it more for shock value that for full scene inducing chills. Now that is not to say Choose or Die does not have its moments, but it carefully picks when to dive deeper into the gore, while others times to strictly deliver the shock. As a film that seemed to boast Saw and Escape Room influences early on, there were expectations in place. Choose or Die exceeds these expectations proving that gore is not always the most vital element within a horror setting.
What stands out in the film is the idea of a cursed reality, that there is an illusion of the control one has on their own life. And that for some, the suffering of others elevates them to a bigger and better life. It at times feels like a critical examination of the rise of power of those who have benefited from the losses and struggles of others, the most recent struggle coming to mind being the rippling effects of the global pandemic. As many lost their jobs, wages, healthcare, and even housing, others were seeing record profits and opportunities. While Choose or Die does not single out anyone, it is hard to deny the deep unbalance of power the game creates and questions.
Original? Or Sequel?
What is honestly surprising is the duality of the film as either a stand-alone or a setup for a sequel. There are various elements woven throughout Choose or Die that is only slightly touched upon, leaving a curiosity lingering when the final credits role. It seems there is a deeper understanding and a deeper story that could be derived from the bits and pieces left throughout. Like the secrets in a game, Choose or Die too has more to share.
Have you seen Choose or Die? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Choose or Die was released on Netflix on April 15, 2022!</i
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