Released: 15th April
Seen: 17th April
In 2018 the film Truth or Dare was released to what could charitably be called ‘mixed’ reviews. It was a film with a fun concept that held back so much that it ended up just becoming one of the blandest horror movies in recent memory. The failure of Truth or Dare is such a shame because a horror film where people have to deal with hard choices that could lead to strange supernatural death is one that has the potential to be a lot of fun, it’s the kind of schlocky idea that this genre thrives on and in the right hands it could lead to something enjoyable.
Apparently, the right hands are not the hands that assembled Choose or Die because they made a movie with that core concept that’s so convoluted it’s hard to enjoy, even though they really go through on the visceral aspect of the genre.
Choose or Die follows Katie (Iola Evans), a wannabe coder and current cleaning lady who lives with her mother in a pretty rundown apartment. Occasionally she ends up finding cool electronic devices which she brings to her friend and coding tutor Isaac (Asa Butterfield). One of the things she ends up finding is an old computer game called CURS>R which offers a $125,000 grand prize for finishing, which is the kind of money that could theoretically get Katie out of her current living situation which is so overly dire that even describing it would sound like a dark joke. Of course, once Katie starts playing, the game begins impacting reality and now every choice she makes in the game could spell death for anyone who happens to be close enough to Katie to get roped into the game.
As far as premises go, ‘video game that controls reality and kills people’ is one of the more fun ones out there. With a lot of references to the 80s, including a voice cameo by Robert Englund, Choose or Die clearly wants to feel like it’s paying homage to those more over the top horror films with its love of throwing some silly over the top gore moments out and some sequences that feel like they were lifted right out of a lesser Nightmare film. You can tell there was an idea here that leant itself to something potentially fun but the keyword there is ‘potential’ because Choose or Die just isn’t much fun.
Part of the problem is down to just how the game in question works, at random moments a computer will boot up somewhere and ask a simple question with two possible answers that could both lead to a horrific outcome… at least at first. Once you get used to that idea then we switch, going from a simple question to someone having to play some kind of maze and then the next round involves an entirely new reality, you will never understand fully how this game works because it constantly changes in ways that are never really explained well.
There’s also a moment when the game seems to accuse the main players of cheating and punishes them for it, which is wild because it never explains how what they did counts as actually cheating… but that could be because the rules are never explained and understanding the rules is kind of essential in order to get tension. If your horror relies on following rules, we need to know those rules in order to go “Oh no, they’ve broken the rules, now they’re in trouble”.
Then there are the actual moments in Choose or Die when something horrific is meant to happen and some of these actually work, a scene with a waitress forcefully feeding herself glass is actually quite effective as is a video of one of the original beta testers for this game but for the most part, either the rules of play are so convoluted that it’s honestly hard to figure out why certain things are happening or the actual moment of shock just lacks impact.
Even if moments could have an impact, they don’t because Choose or Die is surrounded by non-characters who we flat out cannot give a single solitary damn about. No one is interesting enough to care about, not Katie or Isaac, anyone who either of them knows, side characters who have previously played this game or been impacted by it, no one’s interesting enough to care about what happens to them.
At most the one character you can feel some kind of serious empathy for is the waitress that eats glass, but only because it’s such a shocking moment and that actress really sells how much she doesn’t want to do it but is compelled to so it becomes terrifying… that’s kind of the only moment where Choose or Die meets its potential though.
Even the ending is scattershot, introducing a new element to Choose or Die that was never there before and denying certain characters an emotional climax to their story while also basically cheating the audience with absolute bullshit. We’re talking about how a character dies in a way that has killed many people before in these kinds of films, and then we cut away and they’re absolutely fine and walking around with just a few bandages for their trouble. That level of bullshit. It’s just a disappointment, one that hilariously ends in obvious sequel bait and good luck to them on that front.
Choose or Die had an idea that could’ve been a lot of fun but really just ended up blowing it all by overcomplicating things and not making the characters likeable enough to make it possible to care whether they lived or died. There are a few moments where you can see Choose or Die almost figuring out how to handle this plot, every now and then the potential of the piece pops up to show that this idea could work before slipping back down to being mediocre at best. Honestly, I would probably rather watch Truth or Dare again, that film might’ve been tamer but at least it was consistent and simple in its stupidity.