- Movie Rating -

Choose or Die (2022)

| April 15, 2022

It’s funny, right before sitting down to watch Toby Meakins’ Choose or Die, I was lazily moving through the first installment of Zork – I do this a lot.  For you kiddies out there, Zork was a text-based adventure from the early 80s that pits you against a vast underground empire where you have to collect 20 treasures while avoiding a less-than-friendly thief who keeps pilfering whatever you find.  Anyway, at one point, I saved my place just before penetrating his lair.  He killed me.  I restored.  He killed me again.  I restored.  He killed me again.  I restored.  Over and over, my character met his untimely end at the wrong end of the thief’s blade.  I was hoping to get lucky.  At one point, I imagined the sheer hellish torment that I was putting my character through, a bizarre Groundhog Day scenario of dying by the sword over and over and over until . . . well, until you get lucky.

I thought about this while watching Choose or Die, a movie that invokes such an idea but is never as clever about its premise as it would like to be.  Like my frequent returns to Zork, the movie is loaded with nostalgia and the real-life consequences but not much else.

The movie stars too very good actors.  Asa Butterworth, I have admired in Hugo and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Iola whom I am unfamiliar with but who has a wonderful screen presence.  Evans plays Kayla, a college student wallowing in dire poverty and fending off a slick drug dealer (Ryan Gage) who offer her help for a price.  Her best friend is Isaac (Butterfield) who is a game designer and potential boyfriend, but whatever romantic or physical tension might exist between them is thrown out the window when they discover and old Zork-style text game called “Curs>r” (which is a much better title than Choose or Die, but no one asked me) that has apparently an old cash prize that has never been claimed.

That might help her out of her financial rut, but the game is a little trickier than it first appears.  It seems that commands typed into the game happen for real.  Everytime she finishes a level, the stakes get worse and much deadlier.  For starters, the game makes the waitress at the local cafe eat broken glass.  At another point, she has to try and get her mother out of her house before she can be consumed by a giant rat.  When she goes home, she finds that – yes! – indeed a giant rat has torn the house apart.

The awkward basis of this film is obviously the Nightmare on Elm Street pictures, and indeed Robert Englund lends his voice to the game.  It’s awkward because the film is trying to have the same twisted reality as those movies, but this film isn’t structured very well, so each visual trick feels like just the director and set decorator are screwing with you.  There are never any stakes raised, never any real danger because the movie doesn’t establish rules or a continuity that frames our brains into what the film is trying to do.

I might have preferred a film that was much more sure of itself, one in which the screenwriter scaled things back and made them more accessible.  Trying to get into a room, let’s just say, and not get killed over and over and over.  Let’s start there.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Horror