It’s unusual that the foolish however principally 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 because of the success of Intercourse Training. It’s contemporary-set however baked in 80s nostalgia, one thing that additionally conjures up the aesthetic of the aforementioned comedy sequence in addition to everything of long-running hit Stranger Issues. It additionally focuses on a cursed online game, making it a detailed cousin to the streamer’s interactive Black Mirror hit Bandersnatch. It’s a movie destined to dwell its days within the “if you happen to like” container.
It’ll most likely fare nicely there as followers of the above would possibly discover nearly sufficient right here to play with though they could, like me, be somewhat stunned at simply how nasty this quickie horror is, made with nearer consideration to the gore quotient than any degree 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, comparable 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 gaggle of teenagers taking part in a lethal online game. We’re in comparable, 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 that the $125,000 prize cash would possibly nonetheless lay unclaimed and additional seduced by the recorded voice of Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, on the finish of the hotline. His good friend, 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 important, 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 would have anticipated (there’s a whiff of the far superior Escape Room movies right here which exist firmly on the 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 business causes, that provides a layer of amateurishness to what’s in any other case a solidly directed first function 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 approach again when) nevertheless it’s a reduce above the common Netflix style guff.
The script, from TV author Simon Allen, acts as principally 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 received’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 teen consuming his arm! In a selection between coherence and cruelty, it’s a straightforward win.