Review by C.J. Bunce
The Oregon Trail. Not many games can claim to be the first computer game of so many people. And yet that’s exactly what the game was. In grade school! An early roleplay game where players took the driver’s seat–of a Conestoga wagon–trying to survive the trail West without dying of dysentery. We’ve come along way since the game premiered in 1971. And so have movies about humans intersecting with computers, with benchmarks like Tron, The Matrix, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. (Who else is excited to see Dragon’s Lair, the movie? The animated movie is due out this year from Don Bluth and Ryan Reynolds). In Netflix’s latest gamer related movie Choose or Die (formerly titled CURS>R), reality is cursed as an old PC game pulls players into a Saw-like gore-filled horror reality. Unfortunately this movie lacks the fun of Final Destination or Happy Death Day, or any subtlety, and instead arrives as a slashery, forgettable time waster. Its multiple scenes of self-inflicted violence are unnecessary and over-the-top, making this a “free” Netflix movie you shouldn’t inflict upon yourself.
In Choose or Die, an exhausted young woman named Kayla (played by Carnival Row’s Iola Evans) with an affinity for 40-year-old hardware technology finds herself dabbling around old video games with unsolved prize contests. It doesn’t seem like her generation would be interested or have access to the old tech, but this woman is and does. She finds a game called Curs>r–or does it find her? As with The Oregon Trail and later similar games, the player must make choices, often with bad results. With Curs>r, Kayla gets two choices and she’s told she must choose one or die. And both choices are deadly for the person Kayla must make decisions for.
It’s entirely chilling and even suspenseful at times, but the writing fails at getting the audience to care about the players in this dark, dirty, and dreary present-day world. The psychological horror is only about shock factor–the one 1980s thing it gets right is the senseless movie violence. As Kayla’s friend Isaac (played by grown-up Ender’s Game’s Asa Butterfield) arrives, even his friendly presence can’t help this movie. Both are so vacuous that even after Kayla encounters a horror that nearly kills someone close to her, they are goofing around and having fun in her apartment–back to normal like nothing happened.
In another scene the two leads are seen driving in a video simulation for no apparent reason tied to the plot–it’s never explained. Without any atmosphere or style when someone doesn’t “choose,” a loud dissonance buzzing plagues the player, but it’s distractingly a close–but not that great–copy of the eeeeee, shhhhhhh, errrreeeee, cshhhhhhhh from dial-up Internet days.
When the mystery–involving coded characters in a They Live-styled reveal–finally arrives, it’s too little, too late, and more like a bad Max Headroom appearance or Devo video.
Cornetto Trilogy alum Eddie Marsan is another player of the game (Marsan really needs a better agent for this waste of his time), and A Nightmare on Elm Street star Robert Englund gets billing in the movie, but it’s only for his barely recognizable voice in the computer game.
The idea behind Choose or Die is interesting. The story just doesn’t work, and its senseless violence in the extreme is too disturbing for anyone who values their brain cells, especially with more compelling suspense-thrillers available, like Netflix’s own retro/nostalgia series Archive 81 (reviewed here). C’mon, Hollywood, bring us Dragon’s Lair instead. We watched this one, so you don’t have to. Find Choose or Die now on Netflix, but only if you don’t choose wisely.