Choose or Die, a Netflix horror thriller, is surprisingly well-made. The film defies the expectations that its premise affords, despite its modest scope and budget; adding it to your queue would be akin to picking it up on the spur of the moment while browsing the aisles of a local video store. After looking it over, you weren’t expecting much, but you hoped you paid for something decent. Choose or Die, thankfully, is more than passable. It’s actually quite enjoyable.
Choose or Die is directed by Toby Meakins (Bite Size Horror) and tells the story of Kayla (Iola Evans), a young woman who drops out of school to support her ailing mother.
The difficulty of such an undertaking is obvious. During the day, Kayla is accompanied by eviction notices and a rapidly depleting supply of medications. In order to make ends meet, she works a low-paying cleaning job at night. They never do, resulting in a frustrating cycle that only serves to delay the inevitable.
Kayla’s financial problems are, to say the least, perplexing. Things get a lot worse when her friend Isaac (Asa Butterfield) gives her an old adventure/survival video game called CURS>R that he found. Kayla sees the game as a means to an end, with a $100,000 prize for the first person to complete it. She decides to give it a shot, completely unaware that what happens in the game also happens in real life.
The premise of Choose or Die is well-known. The list of movies with a reality-altering video game or supernatural element that forces people to do something is quite long. As a result, it’s easy to notice when Choose or Die’s story begins to run concurrently with the previous instalments. The protagonist(s) is/are constantly asked to choose between two possibilities. Both are unfavourable, and the majority of them result in death. Raised stakes stifle any desire to quit. The search for answers begins seriously before devolving into desperation. Rinse and repeat as needed.
Choose or Die comes dangerously close to being mediocre at times because it follows such a well-worn path. However, the film’s strong performances and grounded subplot help to alleviate this feeling. Evans, for example, does a fantastic job as Kayla. Her convincing display lends weight to certain moments, making it easier to suspend disbelief during a supernatural event, as she appears to be able to steal any scene she’s in. Butterfield is also not bad. Isaac’s portrayal of Kayla allows him to play off of her in a way that makes their onscreen relationship feel genuine. Kayla’s mother, another cursed individual, and a drug dealer (Angela Griffin, Eddie Marsan, and Ryan Gage, respectively) don’t get much screen time. They did, however, give good performances.
While the cast is excellent, the subplot involving Kayla’s family is what holds the film together. These overarching issues ground the main plot in reality, preventing Choose or Die from devolving into a glorified video game. It’s more Jumanji (1995) than Stay Alive, despite being played straight. That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of character development. The only difference is that the characters appear to be concerned with more than just surviving the game.
When it comes to the game, the way it terrorizes the cast must be applauded. There aren’t many jump scares or outright gore, and a few scenes fall short of conveying the film’s intended sense of dread.
Despite this, Choose or Die mostly succeeds as a thriller thanks to effective special effects. Because CURS>R is based on old text-based adventure games, the cast performs a lot of the violence after someone types in a response to a question (as opposed to some sort of digital monster). The transitions from real life to game are interesting, and some of the more elaborate deaths are done well enough. The practical effects and off-screen violence, however, are the most compelling aspects of the film.
Choose or Die, a Netflix thriller, is a good watch. It isn’t meant to be particularly frightening—don’t expect a lot of jump scares or gory deaths—as the focus is on presenting a bad and sometimes unsettling situation in an engaging manner. The film does a good job of staying within its budget while also providing a good plot. Kayla, the film’s main protagonist, is played superbly by Evans. And, while I would have preferred a more ominous atmosphere, that does not detract from an otherwise enjoyable experience. In the end, Choose or Die is a solid B-movie worth seeing on a Friday night.