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Friday, April 15, 2022

‘Choose or Die’ Review – Netflix’s Teen Horror Movie Shows Off a Playful Mean Streak

Netflix’s Choose or Die draws heavy inspiration from A Nightmare on Elm Street in tone, style, visual references, and even voice-over by Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund. While its influences and retro 80’s video game horror conceit draw from the past, the teen horror movie wants to leave nostalgia in the past. It results in a breezy, fun gateway horror movie with a mean streak.

Kayla (Iola Evans) spends her nights working on a cleaning crew and tinkers with coding or selling retro computer equipment to friend Isaac (Asa Butterfield) by day. She lives in a rough neighborhood and struggles to keep afloat while her mom descends further into depression, numbing the pain from loss with hard drugs. They can’t afford prescriptions. While at Isaac’s shop, Kalya discovers an old text-based game, Curs>r, that promises a fortune if the player can survive five days of a reality-bending curse. The young coder quickly realizes the game means it when it prompts “choose or die.”

Director Toby Meakins, working from a script by Simon Allen for his feature debut, creates an interesting contrast between Kayla’s dilapidated urban setting and the vibrant neon hues of the game’s reality. The Curs>r game design and graphics by Jonathan Howells goes far in providing visual interest, too. The graphics begin as a vivid green and black text-based game of yesteryear but slowly seep into Kayla’s world. Each new night of terror brings a different level to the game and varied visuals that avoid repetitive stagnation. The way the graphics are implemented in scene transitions is also innovative. Meakins uses them to leave some of the grislier horror moments up to viewer imagination, a clever workaround for any budgetary constraints.

Evans makes for a compelling lead in the teen horror movie. She effectively sells Kayla’s rougher edges; constant run-ins with mom’s sleazy drug dealer means Kayla’s guarded and tough when necessary. Residual guilt and caring for an ailing mom showcase Kayla’s softer side and vulnerabilities. The emotional nuances in Evans’ performance keep her engaging even when her character’s potential romance with Isaac feels slight, and the horror bides its time until the next fateful game encounter.

Iola Evans as Kayla in Choose or Die. Cr. © CURSR FILMS LIMITED 2022

The game slowly ramps up its threat level in true video game fashion style. While that makes for a lower body count, the steady progression means it builds to a satisfying finish. The game has a severe mean streak, and that’s never as clear as it is in the violent and manic climax. It’s also refreshing how the narrative never tries to back down from its darker impulses; the stakes remain consistent and avoid using the video game reality as a magic undo button.

Choose or Die works best as a gateway horror movie for teens. It’s a simple setup executed well, with some clever stylistic flourishes. The pacing is lean and brisk, with a steady build in horror and stakes. Kayla makes for a great teen heroine, too. But the narrative never ventures too deep beneath the surface, leaving themes of eschewing nostalgia or the burdens of family left mostly unexplored. Answers behind the game come in a speedy exposition dump that is dizzying. Those looking for Robert Englund to appear on screen in a more prominent part may be disappointed. But it’s a solid and playful entry in video game horror movies for the young horror fan or the young at heart.

Choose or Die begins streaming globally on Netflix on April 15, 2022.

The post ‘Choose or Die’ Review – Netflix’s Teen Horror Movie Shows Off a Playful Mean Streak appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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