‘Choose or Die’ is a new Netflix horror movie about an old video game that is articulated based on decisions that have the power to manipulate reality and causing harm to people related to its player, is the kind of project designed for a young demographic and is in the vein of thrillers like ‘Escape Room’ (2019), despite the fact that its main premise ends up taking some unexpected turns.
The history of the Internet is inextricably linked to the history of video games in fascinating ways. Some of the first computers from the 1950s were used for video games and around 1976, one of the first computer programming networks, ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), created multiplayer games like Colossal Cave Adventure, and its development would go on to lead us to the Internet as we know it.
Cursed games and deadly choices
Today horror cinema has tried to incorporate the medium in different manifestationssince the zoom terror of ‘Eliminated’ (Unfriended, 2014) is a constant every year, but the relationship with video games has never been so lucky, however, both ideas of incorporating technology into new narratives are quite connected and ‘Choose or die’ works as one of the new horror movies based on mobile apps that put terrifying tests.
Here we have a penniless college student named Kayla, who plays a compelling Iola Evans, saving up to fulfill her dream of being a programmer and help support her drug-addicted mother. When she visits her friend Isaac de Ella (Asa Butterfield) he shows her a game from the 1980s that she had never heard of. She takes it to restore it and sees that if she wins the reward is $100,000, but gets caught in a deadly trap.
When she begins to play, she must choose between two options with dangerous consequences for her and for all those around her, a dynamic very common to films like ‘Seven wishes’ (2017), ‘Truth or dare’ (2018) or ‘Countdown. The hour of your death (2019), horror films aimed at adolescent or young audiences in which the entity curses some device or object to make people decide between terrible options, variations of the idea of wish with trap of ‘The monkey’s paw’ and the attempts to cheat death itself from ‘Final Destination’.
Sympathy for the 80’s
‘Choose or die’ begins in that same development but is making some decisions that do not fit 100% with the logic raised from the beginning, the first deaths with decision involved are toothy and evoke the saga ‘Saw’, but once we know more about the game, reality and that of the screen merge without clear rules, except to present everything as a great exercise in fetishism for retro video games from the 80s, 8-bit aesthetics and greenish colors of old monitor.
It has a continuity with movies about interactive and dangerous videogames like the story of Emilio Estévez in ‘Nightmares‘ (1983), the death of a character at the hands of Freddy within a video game in ‘Final Nightmare: Freddy’s Death’ (1991) – not by chance Robert Englund puts the voice to the game playing itself–, but above all the film ‘Deadly game, interactive journey’ (Brainscan, 1994) who already shared a certain fascination for the same textures.
The novelty is that the retro element also recovers the fascination with VHS, another recent trend in films such as ‘Censor’ (2021) or the ‘File 81’ series (2022), applying the glitch to the characters themselves, receiving recorded messages almost like in the game ‘Atmosfear’, sharing certain keys with ‘Beyond the Gates’ (2016), or designing deaths like throwing up the videotape. Everything makes up a conscious collage of nostalgia for the afunctional technology that makes ‘Choose or die’ almost a visual whim designed to overturn a nostalgic representation that the characters end up rejecting.
Subversive class ideas and resolution
The development is somewhat chaotic and goofy but the ending is surprising, if you get into his game, and there are some subversive ideas sprinkled throughout its meager hour and a half that put it a little above the average for these youthful pastimes. Kayla has a hard life, she is brilliant and cannot access the meritocracy that is often advertised in the United States, for her “reality is cursed” and in the universe of the game the idea is suggested that every time someone wins money if someone else spends it, or if we eat something, a living thing has died for it.
T-shirts or cheap shoes come from the slavery of others whom we do not see, whenever someone wins someone loses, a rule of capitalism whose narrative dominates certain types of families that have managed to inherit wealth, therefore, the end of the film proposes a conflict of interest but at the same time it is a class empowermentrace and gender that invites you to break the deck and change the flow without hindering the rhythm.
There are other details such as certain photographic passages or the electronic music by Liam Howlett, from the band The Prodigy, that give a certain personality to a film born to be used and thrown away, that follows horror tropes, and proposes some unexpected details, such as that collage of cutouts on the face of certain protagonists. ‘Choose or die’ is a modest but cute artifact of fetishism for creepypasta universes and 4-8 bit aesthetics.