Choose or Die has some interesting concepts about shifting realities and some 80s nostalgia, but it never succumbs to its true potential due to an unsightly approach by director Toby Meakins.
There is a current 80s revival that is taking the world by storm. The worlds of fashion, arts, and other scenarios are taking inspiration from one of the most influential decades (especially in music). You are even seeing more movies and TV series set in that decade or based on what made it tick for those who lived through it. This craze is so big that not even the horror genre can stay back from it. Last year, we saw Prano Bailey-Bond’s stylish and thrilling directorial debut, Censor, which focused on a time where British censors were banning plenty of video nasties because they were “causing harm to the audience”.
As a result, films like Maniac, The Evil Dead, Cannibal Holocaust, and The New York Ripper were either cut, edited, or banned altogether. Netflix’s Choose or Die uses that binge of the decade’s nostalgia as a way to create a narrative revolving around the classic arcade games of the time. Choose or Die focuses on a broke college dropout named Kayla (Iona Evans), who’s stuck in a dead-end job washing windows and floors at an unoccupied building.
She has a computer programmer/game designer friend, Isaac (Asa Butterfield), with whom she hangs out to pass the time before their respective jobs. She also prefers to stay with him since her mom has been struggling heavily since the death of her younger brother and started using drugs to numb the pain. By chance, a vintage arcade game, CURS>R, in Isaac’s collection has an unclaimed prize of over two-hundred-thousand dollars, so Kayla decides to take a crack at it to see if she could hit the jackpot. However, what she doesn’t expect is that the game would make her choose between threatening and lethal actions.
If the person who’s playing doesn’t decide on one of the horrific options, they die. Forced to play the game until she defeats “the final boss”, Kayla must survive four levels of intense horrors that may inflict pain on her dearest and closest acquaintances. Netflix doesn’t have the best platform for original horror pictures, although some of its series are solid (like The Haunting of Hill House, Brand New Cherry Flavor, All of Us are Dead). And although Choose or Die has some exciting ideas that might be of some worth, director Toby Meakins’ approach doesn’t service them properly.
The lines between reality and fantasy start to blur as Kayla continues playing the game and going onto another level, which causes the decisions she must make to become even harsher and more brutal. That part alone could have been a fascinating concept for a short feature, albeit not as an eighty-four-minute movie. The narrative isn’t engaging or intriguing enough for it to be extended to such stature unless its horror set pieces are expanded like its contemporaries Ready or Not, Escape Room (even though I don’t like it as much), and Saw.
Also, there is supposed to be more tension with each level, and the atmosphere needs to be filled with the horrors of what may come. Yet, it doesn’t happen. It becomes too radical, and on occasions, in a shoddy fashion, to take it seriously. Nonetheless, some bright spots keep you hankering for its potential. The introduction for Choose or Die perfectly sells the movie, although the rest is quite disappointing. Those first few minutes have great tension, as the scene ends with a person getting his tongue cut off, and the characters involved show great anxiety as they learn they are now part of a game.
And the first encounter between Kayla and the CURS>R program, set in an empty diner, is hard to watch because the waitress is forced to eat glass. These set pieces prove the various possibilities that the film could have taken; what is left is a poorly written feature with underdeveloped characters. In addition, it holds back on the gore and blood for the rest of the kills in the second and third acts, but they are, at least, well-directed (except for a silly CGI-filled kill that I won’t spoil). All you want with this type of film is a fair share of entertainment and scares; nonetheless, since Meakins doesn’t take advantage of the reality shifts between the video game and reality, the crew involved doesn’t have much to play with.
Choose or Die is far more interesting and intriguing than the rest of Netflix’s genre movie catalog, yet, still, it isn’t any good. To be completely honest, I would remember the recent blood-soaked remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre – a film that everyone hated, but I didn’t think it wasn’t that terrible – more than this. Choose or Die has a handful of ideas, a delightful Robert Englund voice cameo, and some nasty, in a good way, horror set-pieces; however, there isn’t anything else worth watching it for.
Choose or Die is now available to watch on Netflix.