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Review: ‘Choose or Die’ Leans on Eighties Nostalgia and Inventive Kills for an Enjoyable Netflix Exclusive

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'Choose or Die' Leans on Eighties Nostalgia and Inventive Kills for an Enjoyable Netflix Exclusive

A long-lost horror game known as Curs>r (said like “cursor”) resurfaces after decades, and a copy falls into the hands of young programmer Kayla (Iola Evans). With her family’s home in shambles after the death of her younger brother, and landlord Lance (Ryan Gage) threatening to find ways to put them all on the streets, Kayla has no choice but to play the game for the potentially-unclaimed prize. A phone number leading to a recorded message from Robert Englund himself shows promise for Kayla and her friend Isaac (Asa Butterfield), but the grim reminder that “reality is cursed” rings truer than they could have ever imagined. As they uncover the secrets of Curs>r, all they know of reality, games, and what exists between those two is turned on its ear, right up until the dreaded “Game Over” screen.

Video games as a plot device in horror films is nothing new, with films such as Stay Alive using a supernatural game to draw its victims in, typically with a premise of “if you die in the game, you die for real.” Back in the Eighties, text-only adventures were the way to go for the prototypical video games, if we think back to the seminal Oregon Trail or Zork. The argument can be made that Choose or Die, directed by Toby Meakins in his feature-length directorial debut, doesn’t do much new for this subgenre of film, but what cannot be argued is that he’s got an entertaining popcorn horror that is well worth a viewing.

In a supernatural horror film, kills can be quick and underwhelming or over-the-top and mind-bending. Choose or Die’s kills fall somewhere in the middle, with things such as possession leading one to harm themselves due to the player’s inaction, all the way up to one involving VCR tape that is stomach-churning to the point where I’ll excuse any possible CG animation done for it, it just looked that gnarly. A horror film should have one memorable kill in it, be it Charlie’s head smash in Hereditary or the uppercut decapitation in Jason Takes Manhattan, and with the tape kill, Choose or Die has a doozy of an image to burn on the memories of its viewers.

Choose or Die Video Game

Every game has to have a memorable final boss, and without spoiling things, bringing things back to where we began the film is done quite nicely, though the final twist in the fight is done in a less-than-satisfying manner. It lulls the viewer into the idea of a “no one wins, we said reality is cursed, didn’t we?” finish that honestly would have made sense here. The finale lives up to the video game motif, and our denouement wraps up every loose end of this eighty-something minute flick.

Choose or Die does not live by its nostalgia, and therefore does not die with it. It rather uses the past to inform the plot and drive this long-standing curse along. The kills are gory, the story doesn’t drag along, and the performances are believable, if a bit uninspired at times. It’s an hour and twenty-odd minutes I’m not going to curse losing, and I’d even like to rewind to witness the VCR tape scene again, graphic as it was.

Choose or Die, also known as CURS>R, is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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