CHOOSE OR DIE. (L-R) Iola Evans as Kayla and Asa Butterfield as Issac in Choose or Die. Cr. © CURSR FILMS LIMITED 2022

Netflix Review – Choose Or Die (2022)

It all started with Pac Man. The video game equivalent of The Very Hungry Caterpillar launched in the 80s and took off like a rocket. Games never looked back. Super Mario Brothers arrived later in the decade, followed by Sonic The Hedgehog in the 90s, so it was inevitable that the lines between games and films would start to blur. And, while movies inspired by gaming franchises have been variable to say the least, Sonic’s recent outing seems to point to an improvement.

There is, of course, another approach, one where a fictional game is the catalyst for the action, and that’s exactly what director/writer Toby Meakins has opted for in Choose Or Die (originally known as Curs>r). It’s a format which has since been used for other technologies in our lives – think Searching and Unfriended – very often to demonstrate the downside of living our lives online, but it gets a twist by putting an 80s game at the centre of the present day action. Isaac (Asa Butterfield) comes across a cassette tape of Curs>r, which is voiced by no less a horror icon that Robert Englund, but quickly discovers that it compels players to complete a level every day. It also promises a prize at the end, but the choices that need to be made along the way never have good outcomes and the game not only starts to take over his life and that of his friend Kayla (Iola Evans), but also predicts their words and actions.

If it’s intended as a metaphor for how video games can dominate our lives, it’s simplistic in its execution. From starting on an old fashioned computer, Curs>r crops up everywhere – laptops and mobile phones included, but still with the distinctive green letters and symbols on a black screen – and neither Isaac nor, especially, Kayla, can escape its clutches. Essentially, though, it’s not so much a gaming film with a moral but one that sets out to be more of an old fashioned horror slasher. Despite the young lead actors, this is no teen movie – hence the 15 certificate – with blood sloshing around and some rather gruesome deaths and mutilations.

Yet it’s when the blood has dried up and killings can only be heard either on the phone or through the computer screen with its 80s style graphics that things become genuinely uncomfortable to watch. Imagination can be much worse than reality and it has a squirm-inducing effect in these sequences. The trouble is, though, that they’re too few and far between, with the makers more interested in gore than something with smattering of subtlety. The contemporary setting is suitably gloomy and grimy, but the special effects hark back again to the 1980s, both in terms of style and their retro standard.   More disappointing is that, overall, it’s not likely to have you on the edge of your seat, despite the efforts of Butterfield, Evans and a criminally wasted Eddie Marsan, who tops and tails the film in just a couple of scenes.

The choice is entirely yours. It won’t exactly kill you with boredom, but it doesn’t deliver when it comes to thrills or horror – and it certainly doesn’t get close to the terror promised by the game itself. The most interesting premise – the revelation of the game’s prize – is left right until the end, squandering the chance for something more thought provoking. By that time, your patience may well have run out.

★★


Horror | Cert: 15 | Netflix from 15 April 2022 | Netflix | Dir. Toby Meakins | Asa Butterfield, Iola Evans, Robert Englund, Angela Griffin, Kate Fleetwood, Eddie Marsan.