Netflix’s Choose or Die Review: A gaming horror flick that squanders its potential
Netflix’s new film Choose or Die presents an interesting horror concept that ties potentially engaging thrills together with some nods to 80s gaming but fails to even leave a memorable impression.
The film follows Kayla (Iola Evans), a broke programmer that finds herself in a terrifying game of survival after she starts playing an obscure 80s game called CURS>R that forces her to make gruesome choices. CURS>R is the best thing Choose or Die has going for it as it provides the most interesting and shocking elements of the film. The aesthetics of CURS>R are strong with its sound bites and sickly green colors acting as a throwback to early 80s games while also setting a creepy tone. It makes a chilling first impression with how it controls the flow of scenes and creates shocking and tense death sequences that make you want to cover your eyes in fear and disgust. It’s the only thing in Choose or Die that has an impressionable personality, but it’s not enough to make most of the film remotely interesting.
There are some cool sequences that play on the idea of Kayla making tough choices by adding in some engaging game sequences that eventually lead to some solidly creepy final images for each level. However, when CURS>R isn’t driving the film or on-screen, Choose or Die is super boring. The human characters are incredibly thin in both story and personality so there’s little emotional attachment viewers can have with them. The lore built around CURS>R can have interesting elements, like the idea of the game’s code representing cursed language, but often goes for shock value over strong sustenance.
By the big “final boss” finale, the rules feel like they’ve gone completely out the window and while the idea of the boss battle is cool, it’s not built up correctly, so it just comes off random. Even Kayla’s arc doesn’t track as the end sets up this big finale similar to the first Escape Room movie that peels back the layers behind the game’s creation for a possible sequel that feels unworthy and takes Kayla’s arc in an unnecessary and unearned direction. Honestly, this film would’ve heavily benefited from going the same route as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch in being an interactive film. The idea of viewers making choices fits perfectly with its premise and could’ve made the film more engaging and ambitious outside of its sequences with CURS>R.
It’s even worse how the film botches its 80s inspiration since it rarely ever feels like it’s trying to evoke that era. Sure, CURS>R feels like the kind of obscure game you find on an 80s game cartridge or arcade cabinet and there are some solid references here and there, including a weird cameo from horror legend Robert Englund, but nothing else about the film evokes anything about 80s horror or the gaming scene. The setting is so dreary and dull that it feels more like a 90s horror film, and it feels like the film wants to say something big about gaming generations but doesn’t go deep enough to do so.
Rather than feel like an ode to a cherished era of horror and gaming, Choose or Die feels like a crappy, low-budget horror flick of the early 2000s you’d find scrolling through TV channels. Unfortunately, unlike some movies from that era, it’s not even a hidden gem worth watching as it squanders its potential to utilize its intriguing concept and instead bores viewers with bland horror.