Choose or Die
This is another one of those titles that really should have been better than it was. On paper, the concept is actually kind of awesome. The sad thing, however, is the execution of it all. It could have been a very visceral horror movie with some pretty original ideas, but instead, it really does come off as some kind of made-for-TV horror, despite some of the more gory scenes. But, I'll cut it at least a bit of slack, as it's director Toby Meakins' film debut as well as a Netflix original.
We meet a family of three; Laura (Kate Fleetwood) her son, Gabe (Pete MacHale), and a reclusive father named Hal (Eddie Marsan), who obsesses over retro video games in his... mancave? Hal receives an interaction fiction game entitled "CURS>R", and gives it a try. It ends up being a text-based adventure game with a catch - decisions in the game affect the world around you. We learn how sinister this software is when, while playing it, Hal accidentally brings harm to his family with a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" question. Then we never see any of these people again until near the end.
The film then introduces us to a college student named Kayla (Iola Evans), who's trying to improve her skills at school with coding. Her friend, Isaac (Asa Butterfield), helps her with this, as she provides him with various technology in return. Her home life is awful, with her drug-addicted mother, Thea (Angela Griffin), and their rent collector, Lance (Ryan Gage), who may as well be an evil pimp. We learn here that Kayla is the tough daughter who faces all of their problems head-on, takes care of her mother, and gives Lance the right amount of attitude to show she doesn't fear him.
One day, Kayla finds the 'CURS>R' game in Isaac's apartment while visiting, and discovers a hotline number with the game, offering a prize of $125,000. Upon calling the number, Kayla gets the voice of the one and only Robert Englund telling them to play the game, which will give them a code, which will get them the money. Kayla, tempted by the offer, decides to play, promising to split the prize money with Isaac. However, it pretty much becomes a horrific version of 90s 'Jumanji', where the game's various "yes/no" options get deadly in real life.
My biggest problem with this is how unrealistic it is. I'm not talking about the game's supernatural powers either. I think the idea of a cash prize still existing from a retro text-based game is kind of ridiculous. I know there were games out there that did involve the concept of grand prizes - the most famous probably being the unfinished 'Swordquest' games for Atari. Check that link out, it's actually pretty interesting stuff! Anyway, besides that elephant in the room, there was something about Kayla that truly bugged me, and I can't really put my finger on it. It's almost as though her "girl power" felt forced somehow. Nothing against the actress, but some kind of combination of writing and direction with her felt... off.
Pushing my criticisms aside, however, there are still a few things one can appreciate about this. In some ways, aside from hearing Robert Englund's voice, there was a bit of a 'Nightmare on Elm Street', dream-like quality to this, and I have to admit that a lot of it made me squirm. On top of that, I actually did kind of like the climactic sequence, where she faces a "final boss". As I mentioned before, I think they have the right idea for something somewhat original here. But the execution left a little to be desired. Elsewhere, it's fairly heavily criticized, but between a new director and it being a Netflix original, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. It's certainly no type of must-see, though.
Let me come right out of the gates by saying that despite all of the positivity I've been giving Netflix original movies lately, this is definitely one of the "lesser" titles in the collection. Some may recall how underwhelming titles like 'The Woman in the Window' and 'Awake' were to me. However, I wouldn't quite say this one is quite as bad.
The plot is about as basic as it gets for a bottle movie, but with a few interesting tweaks going on throughout. The first is the introduction of our three main characters; all of whom are nameless. We are first introduced to (according to credits) "Nobody" (Jason Segel), who has broken into a wealthy tech CEO's vacation house and been enjoying the splendours of his laid-back, relaxing lifestyle. However, it's not to last.
On a last-minute vacation, the CEO (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins) enter the home, and Nobody tries to hide while trying to sneak out, undetected. It's not long, however, before the wife spots him, and soon, things start to escalate. It's a bit of a twist on the average home invasion movie, but not nearly as intense as most under that category. In other words, there's not really a horror/thriller element to it so much as a bit of suspense, and the question of who the "bad guy" really is, or indeed, if this really is a hero/villain situation at all.
I do admit that it's not a bad look at the characters' relatable situations. Segel plays that part of us that really wants to stick it to the man, but Plemons makes an interesting point about how being wealthy isn't necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. Collins, I think, sort of plays the audience in this, and manages to see both sides to the story. So it's a pretty neat character study altogether, but again, nothing particularly special. It's something to throw on if you have an hour and a half to kill that's about on the same levels as your average TV crime drama.
For me, this one came across as something like a student film, or where all of these actors may have gotten their starts if they weren't already well-established. There's really not a whole hell of a lot more to say about it, as nothing truly stood out for me. If you have the time, it could make for a mildly interesting Sunday afternoon movie, as long as curiosity hits you. Otherwise, I would probably recommend other Netflix titles above it. It's interesting enough as far as the dialogue goes, and a bit of a twist ending, but it's still very average.
Netflix originals are pretty interesting altogether. They started out as very "straight-to-TV" quality films, but as time has gone on (and other streaming services have blossomed), Netflix is one that seems to keep progressing in quality, and keeping up with its competition. While Disney+ is great for big budget quality, and Amazon is great for story (usually), Netflix does a great job of meeting it all in the middle most of the time.
'Red Notice' was one that caught my eye, mostly due to the cast seen on the movie poster. I almost always have fun when Dwayne Johnson is involved, I DO always have fun when Ryan Reynolds is involved, and it's an opportunity to see Gal Gadot in something where she isn't Wonder Woman (although that first film is still awesome). On top of that, director Rawson Marshall Thurber is an interesting specimen - directing movies like 'We're the Millers' and 'Dodgeball', and even playing the Subway Guy in 'Easy A'. Being a fan of all of this, it was a bit of a no-brainer for me to check it out.
We start off with a tale of love taking place in ancient Egypt, where Marcus Antonius presents Cleopatra with three bejeweled eggs as a wedding gift. Two of these eggs are eventually found in 1907, but the third remains a mystery. In present day, FBI Agent John Hartley (Johnson) is assigned to help Interpol agent Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) with investigating a possible theft involving one of the eggs, which resides at the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. This is where he runs into professional art thief, Nolan Booth (Reynolds), who manages to take the egg. However, after a good, long chase, Hatley manages to place him under arrest, and take the egg back.
This, however, leads to two unfortunate things for Hartley. On one hand, the egg is unknowingly stolen again by other professional art thief, Sarah Black (Gadot), also known as "The Bishop". This leads to Das' mistrust of Hartley, and placing him under arrest, as he looks so suspicious. And then that leads to Hartley sharing a cell with Booth where eventually they end up working together. Hartley can bring down the Bishop once and for all, while Hartley promises Booth that he'd gain a reputation as the world's greatest art thief. Plus if, if they can find all three eggs and deliver them to an Egyptian billionaire by his daughter's wedding, there's plenty of wealth to be had in rewards.
All in all, this feels like your average summer blockbuster to me. It uses the "buddy" formula, there's a whole lot of suspension of disbelief necessary. But in the long run, I have to say that this is a fun action, crime comedy where Reynolds and Rocky actually play very well off each other. Think about what it would look like to see the 'Fast & Furious' Hobbs teamed up with Deadpool, because that's essentially what you get here. That may not be the greatest combo for some, as their characters may feel a touch redundant altogether, but I had a lot of fun with this despite any problems it may have had.
Those who know me well can probably tell you how much I am into the whole sleeping process and what it does to our minds. We're forced to face our fears with nightmares, try to make sense of our dreams, and a select few even have to endure the terrifying reality that is sleep paralysis. I find it all very fascinating though. It's neat to think about some of the more bizarre stuff that makes us tick. So movies about this stuff are something I'm drawn to, i.e. 'Nightmare on Elm Street', 'Inception', 'Waking Life', etc.
You'd think this would be another movie to add to my list, but it's more of a cool concept with a badly written execution. It all starts when an EMP goes off because of... reasons, and everything electronic goes dead. A family of three, Jill (Gina Rodriguez) and her two kids, Noah (Lucius Hoyos) and Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) are affected by this with a car accident that throws their car into a lake. As Jill and Noah manage to swim for it while Matilda drowns, but a local manages to revive her. As a result of this EMP, the world is forced awake, and no one can seem to sleep except for two people - a random, unseen woman, who is being kept at a special facility, and Matilda.
From there, it basically becomes a 'Last of Us' situation, where Matilda's immunity to the situation could be the key. Being such a 'Last of Us' fan, of course, this kind of irked me. But I did appreciate that the "monster" (so to speak) was different. The idea of not being able to sleep forever does have me curious as to what could really happen to the body. This is a film that seems to take it to an extreme for dramatic purposes, but to be perfectly fair, it also suggests that the side effects of sleep deprivation are sped up. I don't fully know how much of what the film suggests happens is true, or if it is, how long it's supposed to take for things like organ failure.
One thing I've always found fascinating is the record holder for staying awake. 17-year-old Randy Gardner pulled it off in the winter of '63/'64, doing it as an experiment. He was awake for 11 days, 25 minutes, and found that the deprivation had little effect aside from mood changes (aka "being cranky and needing a nap"). Apparently on the 10th day, he was still able to do things like beat his friend at pinball. On the other hand, he was seen as having not only crankiness, but trouble concentrating, paranoia short-term memory loss, and indeed, even hallucinations (as the film suggests). Ultimately though, after the 11 days, he was in pretty good health, other than odd changes in his natural sleep for a bit (which was probably to be expected).
Anyway, getting back to the film, my humble opinion is that it's Netlfix trying to make another 'Birdbox' while bringing in the general human concepts of 'The Last of Us'. In the end, I don't really get how I feel about it. As mentioned before, it's a cool concept with a poor execution. Parts of it felt extreme, parts of it annoyed me (nothing against the actor, but I did not like Noah at all) and parts of it just didn't make any sense by the end. Honestly, when the big reveal happens you have to wonder about the other people across the globe experiencing the same thing and just how "rare" Matilda actually is. Personally speaking, I'll stick to 'The Last of Us' for what is pretty much the same story - but it actually makes you care in the first 5 minutes.
Here's a title that has sort of been lingering on Netflix as a suggestion for yours truly. I finally decided to check the trailer out after realizing that it featured Rafe Spall, who I recognize most from his role in 'Hot Fuzz' as Andy Cartwright, but most would probably sooner recognize as the writer in 'Life of Pi'. Sure enough it ends up being a British horror movie, and I tend to be a sucker for those if I can manage to find them. So I dove right in.
The movie kicks off with the sudden death of a young man named Robert (Paul Reid). In his memory, a group of his friends, Hutch (Robert James Collier), Dom (Sam Troughton), Phil (Arsher Ali) and Luke (Spall) decide to take a hiking trip on Kungsleden (King's Trail) in Sarek National Park, in northern Sweden. When Dom slips and twists his ankle, they end up taking a shortcut through the woods where they are stalked by a strange creature who seems to feed on their fears, and give them horrific nightmares.
For the most part, I enjoyed this. But I have to admit there were moments of confusion from time to time. I'd have to say there's more going for this movie though, than against it, especially as a horror movie. Whatever's stalking them is a mystery up until the end, but we can't really tell if it's a creature, fear itself, or some crazy twist. The characters all play off each other pretty well, and I have to admit that it did a good job at making me uneasy. There's definitely something unsettling about a dark forest at night, and this movie utilizes that eeriness quite well.
Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from this, however, was that through most of it I kept wondering to myself if maybe this was what 'Slender Man' should have looked like instead. Or at least something very similar. I mean, that movie isn't even out yet, but I've seen the trailer, and I don't get much of a 'Slender Man' vibe from it as opposed to what this movie pulled off.
For as much praise as I give it, however, the very end of it is actually unfortunately kinda lame. It's one of those instances where the movie feels like it just stops. And yet, you sit there trying to figure out how you would have ended it any better. It's an odd one. I would equate it to something like the ending of 'The Amityville Horror'. But the rest of the movie is actually not bad at all as far as the horror aspect of things go. It was very unsettling at times, especially with the perpetual use of tortured screaming off screen. I always say the imagination is more powerful than anything physical, and what we picture in our heads is far worse than whatever makeup effects they can splash about.
I'd recommend this one to people like myself who are, in fact, fans of British horror specifically. But I wouldn't get your hopes up too high either. This is something to throw on if you're in the mood to be creeped out by the strange and unusual some stormy afternoon. Ending aside, I quite enjoyed it