Niche Horror film is exciting on paper, but woefully mediocre in execution
Netflix’s uncertain hit-and-miss game continues. Its newest miss stars Asa Butterfield and Iola Evans as two computer geeks figuring out ways to outsmart an ’80s classic video game. The premise, as the title suggests, involves either-or. While it sounds and starts exciting, the optimism quickly dies down as writers and director Toby Meakins seemingly settle for the ordinary.
This diffusion is not uncommon in modern films. The sheer volume of new content and the ease of access to them does not allow criticism to pass them by. For all the technological advancements and innovation in the filmmaking process, creators are losing the most basic ingredient of a good film: good writing. ‘Choose or Die’, for all its inspiration from videogames of yesteryear, actually has observant modern sensibilities.
The film merges many unique aspects of future technology. Although the game gives serious retro vibes, it uses emotions such as suffering, trauma, and fear to kickstart the levels.
Almost like artificial intelligence software, the game recognizes its subject’s specific needs and creates a compelling hallucination akin to a curse. In fact, in Beck’s flashback video, he explains the origins of the game as a curse, whose symbols were incorporated into lines of coding by him. It carries similarities to the imminent metaverse and Musk’s ambitious “Neurolink” project till its last line of an 8-bit system. An instant connection can be made to one of the episodes of “Black Mirror” as well.
Choose or Die’s futuristic tendencies derived from the mysticism of a buried curse from the past are too hasty. The runtime indicates that but more importantly, many levels that Kayla plays are also wrapped up without too much of a buildup. Beck’s introduction to the plot also suffers from any efforts to integrate it with the hitherto tone of the film. It comes across as too abrupt and convenient when seamlessness is the name of the game.
The handling of character development is laggard when measured to the actual acting performances. The one-note characterizations ensure that viewers will find themselves struggling to get invested in Kayla and Isaac’s stories.
And from what it can be asserted, neither do the two of them. The lack of chemistry is not because of the performers in front of the camera, but behind it. I am even open to the suggestion that only those with a specific taste for this niche horror type will enjoy this film. But, at the same time, some universal objective standards of making a film must also be upheld and fulfilled. Like Dwight Schrute would say, ” purposefully celebrating the opposite of them to mollycoddle” independent cinema is not cool.
The most fundamental problem with ‘Choose or Die’ is its predictability. The mystery it fights so hard to sustain does not have enough bite to sustain through the entire runtime. Even when the big reveal is let out, the result is underwhelming.
The simplicity of its narrative tools comes undone when it becomes a zero-sum game. The film does not think or breathe like a person and hence never reaches the point where it can be a viable personal investment for the viewer. For those looking to reconnect with the nostalgia of arcade games and pixelated screens, ‘Choose or Die’ has some verve. For others – like this reviewer – the mediocre offering is an easy skip.
Verdict - 4/10