'Choose or Die' Review: A Mostly Watchable 'Bandersnatch' Copy
This Netflix horror featuring a cursed video game has enough going for it to keep you playing on.
Jennifer BissetFormer Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
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Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
The Bandersnatch comparisons come up immediately with this digestible
horror thriller centered on a cursed video game.
Choose or Die asks its protagonists to select between two dangerous options in the real world, neither more appealing than the other. But in this noninteractive movie, we aren't the ones clicking our remotes and choosing our own adventure.
Kayla and Isaac are the unfortunate gamers who dust off CURS>R, an old video game from the '80s (did they learn nothing from Jumanji?). The game torments them with a series of deadly levels, putting their families on the line and incorporating people and objects in their immediate vicinity.
These kinds of bloody games have played out on screen before -- 2016's Nerve had its young contestants play a risky version of Truth or Dare for cash. Choose or Die goes down a more supernatural route, and its protagonists aren't necessarily tempted by the money. They both want something different, and that's what makes Choose or Die slightly more refreshing.
Asa Butterfield provides charming comic relief as games programmer Isaac, who's clearly in love with Iola Evans' Kayla. He brings just enough Sex Education awkwardness to make lines such as "It's a date" earn a sigh with a smile.
Kayla is the main focus of the movie, a keyboard refurbisher by day, a cleaner by night. Her mother is out of action, grieving a lost child: Kayla's younger brother, whose death briefly gives Kayla an emotional hurdle to jump during the Choose or Die game.
We follow Kayla and Isaac down a straightforward rabbit hole mystery, until about two-thirds of the way in, where you'll find the majority of the movie's squeamish moments. A woman forced to eat glass is one example earlier on. It's wince-worthy, but Choose or Die never gets gory, which might suit a wider range of tastes.
The main point-scorer for Choose or Die are its '80s references and retro video game nostalgia. Isaac listens to Fad Gadget on his walkman and lives in a gaming shack, surrounded by shelves of cartridges and secondhand consoles. Yes, he was asking for a video game to curse him.
Choose or Die's final destination doesn't necessarily make any sense, bringing in supernatural elements and a strange message about life being the real curse. Still, the flick features tense, gripping moments, and the video game concept never fails to be an addictive, entertaining draw.
A straightforward horror mystery with a few tricks up its sleeve, Choose or Die's nostalgia factor and charming leads will ensure you make it to the unnerving end.
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