It’s unusual that the foolish however largely tolerable horror Select or Die was an acquisition moderately than a homegrown Netflix authentic given how a lot it appears algorithmically modeled for the notoriously formula-obsessed platform. It stars Asa Butterfield, an in-house star due to the success of Intercourse Schooling. It’s contemporary-set however baked in 80s nostalgia, one thing that additionally conjures up the aesthetic of the aforementioned comedy collection in addition to the whole thing of long-running hit Stranger Issues. It additionally focuses on a cursed online game, making it an in depth cousin to the streamer’s interactive Black Mirror hit Bandersnatch. It’s a movie destined to reside its days within the “in the event you like” container.
It’ll most likely fare nicely there as followers of the above may discover nearly sufficient right here to play with though they could, like me, be a bit shocked at simply how nasty this quickie horror is, made with nearer consideration to the gore quotient than any stage of creativity. It’s a part of the cursed tech subgenre that expanded after the success of Gore Verbinski’s surprisingly efficient remake of Ringu, later retitled The Ring. It led to extra equally plotted Asian horror remakes, corresponding to One Missed Name, Pulse and Shutter, after which additionally a string of US copycats, like Feardotcom, Unfriended and Keep Alive, a 2006 flop that noticed a bunch of teenagers taking part in a lethal online game. We’re in related, but mildly more adept, territory right here with the invention of a dusty 80s recreation known as CURS>R (the movie’s authentic title), that coerces gamers into making real life-or-death selections.
It’s discovered by 80s-obsessive Isaac (Butterfield), compelled by the concept the $125,000 prize cash may nonetheless lay unclaimed and additional seduced by the recorded voice of Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, on the finish of the hotline. His pal, and object of affection, Kayla (relative newcomer Iola Evans) is much less satisfied however residing on the breadline has her prepared to take an opportunity, struggling to get by on a measly cleaner’s wage. And so it begins.
What’s vaguely refreshing about this admittedly moderately ho-hum set-up is that Kayla isn’t the hands-on-hips scold she might need been in one other extra cliche model of this story however the one who boots up the sport herself to play. She’s as tech-savvy as Isaac and the movie’s essential, plot-propelling protagonist. The primary encounter with the sport sees Kayla taking part in in an empty diner, compelled to observe a flirty waitress eat glass in entrance of her. It’s a bracingly nasty scene, mechanically cluing us into the torture porn-adjacent territory we’re in, removed from what we’d have anticipated (there’s a whiff of the far superior Escape Room movies right here which exist firmly on this planet of PG-13).
However whereas the gore is impressively visceral and well-realised, the remainder of it’s a few steps behind. It’s an overwhelmingly British movie, shot in London with native actors (there’s a bookending look from Eddie Marsan whereas cleaning soap stalwart Angela Griffin additionally pops up), that’s bizarrely set in an unnamed US metropolis, forcing everybody into at instances laughably shoddy Ay-meh-reek-uhn accents. It’s a baffling misstep, clearly made for industrial causes, that provides a layer of amateurishness to what’s in any other case a solidly directed first characteristic for Brit Toby Meakins. He doesn’t fairly take sufficient benefit of his reality-shifting recreation sequences (the Englund voice cameo serves to remind us simply how wild Wes Craven made these nightmares means again when) nevertheless it’s a lower above the common Netflix style guff.
The script, from TV author Simon Allen, acts as largely simply pedestrian framework for the sport scenes, which fortunately do arrive very often. The specifics of the plot make little to no actual sense, even within the second, however that gained’t a lot matter to the sleepover crowd, who’ll be too distracted by the nasty noise of all of it. Don’t perceive how a malevolent curse ties to recreation code? Who cares, right here’s a young person consuming his arm! In a alternative between coherence and cruelty, it’s a straightforward win.