Choose or Die – Review
After firing up a lost 1980s survival horror game, a young coder unleashes a hidden curse that tears reality apart, forcing her to make terrifying decisions and face deadly consequences.
Welcome to Knockout Horror and another Horror Movie Review. Today we are taking a look at a British horror – Choose or Die. This Netflix movie represents the directorial debut of Toby Meakins. It is filmed in London and stars an almost entirely British cast. With that in mind. The United States setting and American characters might seem a little confusing. The explanation for this is both simple and fascinating. It is one of the very clever ways that Choose or Die warns you about what a bad film it is.
This is one of those horrors you throw on because the premise sounds interesting. You don’t read anything about it. You simply hit play and hope for the best. I mean, after all, what could be so bad? A pair of teens enter a video game world and are forced to choose or die. Put some decent kills in there. A vague plot, maybe some cool 80’s nostalgia stuff. You have the perfect recipe for a totally passable movie.
Well, that is the theory, it’s a shame it doesn’t play out like that in real life. Unfortunately, Choose or Die manages to fail on so many unique levels. From acting to direction to plot to supposed scares. This is just a bad movie. If I had to choose between watching this movie again or dying. I would have to hit the pause button to make sure I chose correctly. Let’s take a look.
Choose or Die – Synopsis
Choose or Die follows a girl called Kayla. Apparently coming from a rough upbringing with limited funds. She has taken on a job cleaning to help pay for her studies. She also sells second hand vintage computer parts to a friend as a side hustle. This friend, in turn, teaches her coding so that she can become a programmer. Kayla’s mum, Thea, is struggling, as well. She has become a drug addict after the death of her son. A sleazy rent collector harasses the family. He keeps Thea hooked on drugs and the family low on funds. To be fair, it is a smart move to double up on incomes in this tough economy.
Kayla aims to, somehow, make enough money to get them both out of the situation. When she stumbles on a game from the 80s. She believes all of her problems might be solved. A $125,000 prize being offered for playing the game seems more than tempting. I guess we will ignore the fact that the prize is still on offer 40 years later. She begins playing the game, a choose your own path text adventure. Suddenly, the game seemingly comes to life and things take a horrible turn. It demands that she make choices on events that act out right in front of her eyes. Kayla is not allowed to stop making choices until she wins the game.
Tons of Problems
I have complained about Netflix based horror movies before. I know a lot of people enjoy them. For me, however, I find them to be pretty sub-par. Quality did seem to be improving a little recently, though. Despite that, Choose or Die is a return to the low standard offered by the company. I have to question how involved they were when making Choose or Die. With all things considered, I doubt they funded this movie. They likely just bought distribution rights. If I had to guess, I would say that this movie was actually funded by a charity shop.
Perhaps the first thing that needs pointing out are the plot holes. For a start, Kayla is receiving tutoring from Kyle to help her learn coding. She brings him old computers, he pays her and helps her learn. Couldn’t she just learn coding online for free? Isn’t that what most people do? I learned a number of coding languages purely through shared information online. You can learn to code with just the most basic of computers and an internet connection. You just need time and a desire to gain knowledge.
This looks, to me, like a ZX Spectrum game given the green text and loading sounds. The Spectrum was, pretty much, a non-factor in America. Why not make it a Commodore 64 game? Would this game really still be offering the $125,000 dollar reward? Why would the phone number still be active? How would the game manage to influence the real world? Why does everyone have such fake American accents? The answer to all of these things is quite simple. Choose or Die is a poorly written, poorly made, mess of a horror. Attempting to tap into the 80’s nostalgia rampant at the moment. This is a film that cares little for logic. It has a firm focus on aesthetic and little else.
Desperate 80’s Nostalgia
As mentioned above. This is a film desperate to cash in on 80’s nostalgia. It tips its hat to the decade in a number of different ways. A Nightmare On Elm Street poster and collection of old yellowed computers being just two of them. A brief cameo from Robert Englund, inexplicably receiving high billing, is welcome. The video game based scenes and loading sounds are likely to please people familiar with the era. Anyone who grew up with Spectrum games will likely get a kick out of this. The aesthetic, however, proves to be a shiny veneer on an otherwise decayed tooth.
Once you get past the novelty of the presentation. The cracks really begin to show. This is a film with a fantastically loose plot and absolutely no scares. Kayla’s situation is a relatable one. Its easy to empathise with someone attempting to escape poverty. Despite this, the execution is so poor that it is impossible to become invested. A collection of farcical, unintentionally comedic, villains don’t help. Added to this the fact that Kayla’s mum has drastically resorted to Crack to cope. It all just comes across as rather humorous and lacking in gravity.
Unintentionally Hilarious in Parts
Scenes that are intended to be harrowing or impactful are, often, hilarious. The real world interference caused by the game leads to some ridiculous visuals. A character being forced to eat glass is somewhat impactful. It offers vague hope of further horrifying scenarios. Unfortunately, the movie goes out of its way to erase any smidgen of hope. There isn’t a single scene that comes close to this level of horror. The rest of the film is content to stroll along never attempting to shock or surprise.
Video game like renders of characters in the film look utterly farcical. Character’s die in genuinely comical ways. Obviously intended to be disturbing. Most of these deaths are, simply, comedy gold. One scene, in particular, is noteworthy for how bloody funny it is. The kills are horribly reminiscent of “Fatalities” from the early Mortal Kombat games. The movie attempts to save itself with a video game depiction of real life events. The results, complete with awful 80’s graphics and 4-bit soundtrack. Will have you rolling on the floor.
The ending deserves mention, as well. We are gifted an unsatisfying, non-sensical, explanation of events. This explanation is quickly followed by a comical game of “stop hitting yourself”. It looks beyond ridiculous and would feel a little too slapstick for even the Scary Movie series. I have no idea how the director managed to sit there and film these scenes. Watch them back and think “Damn, that’s harrowing”. The fact that the movie plays itself off as seriously as a cancer diagnosis makes it all the worse.
Acting is a Mixed Bag
Acting is a seriously mixed bag. Iola Evans, as Kayla, is fine. Kudos to her for not pissing herself during every supposed “horror” moment. Asa Butterfield, as Isaac, is genuinely decent. Angela Griffin, as Kayla’s mum, kinda manages to hide her Yorkshire accent. Thumbs up to her for that. Everyone else is, in all honesty, awful. Robert Englund’s contribution consists of a minute long phone call. They could have, frankly, paid him £50 on Cameo for all I know. I feel like a Cameo video would have been longer, though, to be fair.
Cinematography is adequate, I suppose, though dragged down by poor editing. Some ridiculously messy cuts don’t do the movie any favours. The filming location is gloomy and very clearly not in the USA. Pacing is pretty awful. The movie feels like it drags despite a short run time. It becomes bogged down in sentimental, faux drama at the cost of action. Practical effects are, for the most part, non-existent.
Just Doesn’t Do Anything Well
The thing with Choose or Die is that it just doesn’t do anything well. There are no scares, the horror is actually more humorous than anything. The plot is weak and the characters poorly developed. The situation Kayla finds herself in is pretty ridiculous. The ending is farcical and the acting is lacking outside of the main characters.
On top of the acting woes. It is set in America with American characters which makes no sense. These are clearly British actors. Most of them attempt regional American accents and fail miserably. The parts of London they are filming in look closer to Eastern Europe than America. It all just feels so odd and out of place.
It makes no sense why this movie is set in the USA. Computers and video games did well in 80’s UK. In fact, the homebrew friendly Spectrum fuelled much of the industry. It was cheap and easy to code for. The whole viability of this game’s existence would have made more sense in the UK. The setting is just one of a number of illogical decisions plaguing this film.
Is it a Knockout?
Choose or Die is a horror with a nod to the 80's and a video game centred theme. Following a character being forced to make life or death decisions by a video game. It attempts to place the character in a world somewhere in-between reality and a game. The result is a movie that is as comical as it is bad. Kill scenes are hilarious, acting ranges from okay to terrible, and the plot is full of holes. The American characters and setting are confusing. Especially given the London filming location and British cast. It feels painfully awkward. An awful ending feels like a fitting end to, what is, an utter disappointment of a horror movie.
There are a bunch of movies that follow a similar premise to Choose or Die. Truth or Dare, 13 Beloved and its American remake 13 Sins stand out as fantastic examples. Go check those out instead. This is a movie that entirely wastes its potential. If it would have simply been a rehash of the aforementioned movies with a video game aesthetic. I think this would have been completely watchable. As it is, it is not worth your time.