Choose or Die Review – IGN

Choose or Die debuts on Netflix on April 15, 2022.

Pac-Man. Space Invaders. Galaga. If you were a gamer in the ’80s, you’ll have pumped plenty of quarters into those classic arcade games. But what if that weird-looking retro horror on your shelf started blurring the lines between fantasy and reality? Choose or Die brings this very simple idea to life as college dropout Kayla (Iona Evans) is stuck playing a lethal text adventure that might just spell game over for her and her friends. It’s an intriguing concept, but unfortunately, Choose or Die doesn’t do much with it, resulting in not much more than a bog-standard horror movie.

Kayla is having a tough time at home. Between dropping out of her college computing course and looking after her drug-abusing mother (Angela Griffin), she has a lot on her plate. But when she and her friend Isaac (Asa Butterfield) find a creepy old text adventure, it might just throw her a lifeline. CURS>R has an unclaimed prize for the game – not uncommon, according to Isaac. But the pair soon finds that the $250,000 prize isn’t worth the horror that awaits, when CURS>R starts to affect the world around them… with terrible consequences.

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Essentially, Choose or Die takes a very simple concept and runs with it. We’ve all been terrified by a creepy video game that keeps us up at night. For a lot ’90s kids, that was Resident Eviland in the ’00s, we all lost sleep to Silent Hill and its sequels.

But the retro stylings of the ’80s conjure up a very specific kind of horror.

Real-life urban legends about Polybius game machines mysteriously appearing in arcades and causing night terrors and hallucinations among those who played them feed into the inherent creepiness of Choose or Die. There’s a certain techno-paranoia at play here that the film captures brilliantly with its retro-styled text adventure. But much like the decades-old cassette tape on which CURS>R is originally found, Choose or Die soon begins to unravel.

At first, the game’s deadly curse makes for some truly terrifying visuals. There’s something to be said for the simplicity in its approach – forgoing complicated setups for the direct shocks of a waitress on her knees, supernaturally compelled to eat handfuls of broken glass. The curse itself is simple, effective, and bloody brutal.

What starts out as a subtly creepy premise soon devolves into almost laughable exposition.

That is, until choose or Die begins to mess with its own formula. Much like the greatest classic video games, each level takes a slightly different approach. Unfortunately, Choose or Die riffs on elements that were already working well, replacing jump scares and creepiness with pointless exposition and a backstory that just doesn’t really matter.

Still, Iola Evans is great as the down-on-her-luck Kayla, with all the sass and stoicism of a girl who’s forced to make it on her own. The slack-jawed disbelief at her horrific situation may wear a bit thin at times, but she more than makes up for it with her gritty urban charm. Asa Butterfield equally bumbles his way through scenes he shares with her – a purposeful direction that echoes his feelings for his closest friend. There’s an off-kilter chemistry between them that creates a sort of awkward yet familiar vibe. Anyone who’s ever had a crush on their best friend will instantly know the feeling.

Then there’s Eddie Marsan; A former player of the deadly video game, we get a glimpse into how CURS>R has made his life unravel, with a powerhouse performance from the award-winning British actor. He walks the line superbly between the mundane and the maniacal.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop choosing of Die from losing grip on its own plot. What starts out as a subtly creepy premise soon devolves into almost laughable exposition. Story elements stop making sense and the scares soon become ridiculously over the top to the point of sheer hilarity. Director Toby Meakins wrestles with some great ideas in the early scenes, only to get distracted by a storyline that adds nothing worthwhile to the movie.

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