Choose or Die is a horror thriller that hits the ground running with an inventive concept, putting a horror spin on classic choose your own adventure tales and promising some quite frightening scenarios. The narrative follows Kayla (Iola Evans), a coder who unearths a cursed 80s video game in which the decisions you make have potentially deadly consequences.
Despite this film brimming with potential and executing its ‘choose or die’ scenarios really well, it’s severely impaired by its inability to flesh out the narrative with interesting character arcs and relationships. This film is at its best when focusing on the ‘choose or die’ elements. Inventive, engaging and genuinely frightening, the majority of these sequences had my full attention. It’s the creativity of these sequences that makes them genuinely enjoyable to watch – they’re well-executed pieces of horror with great moments of tension, and a spread generously throughout the film. The rules surrounding how this cursed game works aren’t fully fleshed out – some gaps can be filled with a bit of imagination, while other details don’t make a whole lot of sense… so it’s best not to think too hard about them. Nevertheless, the creepy visuals and haunting atmosphere of these sequences, including a very neat climax, are the film’s saving grace.
The biggest downfall of Choose or Die is that it appears the writers didn’t know what to do with their characters outside of those horror sequences. When it comes to creating meaningful relationships, interesting character arcs and engaging dialogue to string together these key events, this film has next to nothing to offer. Every narrative detail that doesn’t involve the cursed game, whether it be Kayla’s relationship with her mum, her tragic backstory or her friendship with Isaac (Asa Butterfield), just falls completely flat. Another thing that doesn’t help these sequences is the poorly written dialogue – a number of scenes are marred by forced, unnatural lines of dialogue that take you out of the film. Another frustration with these character-centric moments is the blindingly obvious lack of atmosphere. It runs at a really slow pace, but doesn’t accommodate that with any sort of haunting score. These scenes, especially in the first act, are scored by near silence intercut with the occasional hip hop song that’s just loud, distracting and doesn’t fit the tone they’re going for.
Right in between the good of the film – the horror – and the bad of the film – the story – are the performances. Both Iola Evans and Asa Butterfield are fine – they did their best with the dialogue they were given and did a decent job in selling some of the terror through the horror sequences. Their performances aren’t anything to write home about, but they’re enough to get you from start to finish. Honestly, the insanely limited presence of Robert Englund was more exciting than any of the other performances in here.
In the end, Choose or Die is a neat exploration of what a choose your own adventure story looks like in a straight horror skin. The sequences in which the characters progress through the game’s levels are great, capitalising on the creativity within the premise. The downside being that these engaging horror sequences are bookended by uninteresting and unfulfilling character-centric moments. With a crazy yet satisfying ending, I’d still say there is some value to checking out Choose or Die. Is it a great film? No, but I’d say it’s a worthwhile watch just to see the inventive premise unfold and uncover the creativity within.