This review is a translation of Pedro's original Portuguese-language review of Choose or Die on Fala Visual.
Netflix is often accused of greenlighting too many low-quality projects. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. The company has a clear strategy that involves combining a lot of quantity with a fair amount of quality. Of course, this doesn't always work and whoever is not aware of what is supposed to be more or less “elevated material,” ends up being swallowed up by the platform's algorithm. Does this mean that this Choose or Die is good? Not exactly. It means that it fits in the brand strategy of launching – often only through distribution and not production – some material with the only purpose of targeting a specific brand of viewers.
Choose or Die seems to be, fundamentally, a film for young people, but when one looks at the themes and its references, it's obvious that all it really wants to do is wink at adult horror fans. Of course, there's Asa Butterfield – the star of Sex Education – who seems to have been cast to appeal to younger generations. But will younger people – especially the more casual audience – know who Robert Englund is? Probably not.
Englund is just one of the many references to A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film whose poster is hung alongside other classic horror films on the walls of one character’s bedroom. The writers also borrowed heavily from the major themes of the 1984 cult classic, revamping the classic existential distortion that plays with the duality of reality and dreams for the Internet age.
There are a few times when this concept works. The ideas have been well-developed by the film's predecessors. Many will recall Asian horror fever à la Ringu and all of its imitators a couple of decades ago, in which the stories of videos or games turned out to be factual. However, Choose or Die always fails whenever things start to get better. For example, there's a really well-conceived and traumatizing scene where one of the characters chews glass. It's not the first time that ploy has been done, but it is incredibly effective.
In a different scene, the female protagonist Kayla (Iola Evans) tries to help her mother who is experiencing a different reality, and the scene is filmed as if it was a video game. That is very effective, too. The problem is the lack of glue between those good scenes and the way it contextualizes them.
There is an unnecessary subplot regarding the conditions in which Kayla lives (which ends in a really embarrassing way), but overall, it is Kayla who keeps us interested in this story. Evans' performance is surprisingly strong. She has already been a part of several high-profile TV series, but it’s through this film debut that we can confidently predict an auspicious future for her. She practically conducts the film and is, without a doubt, the very best part of Choose or Die.
Asa Butterfield is okay in his role, but he’s playing practically the exact same character he does in Sex Education, only with less good humor. Then there’s Robert Englund, who’s clearly just viewer-bait huge bait, as he is barely in the movie at all.
In the director’s chair, first-time filmmaker Toby Meakins demonstrates that he is not quite up for the challenge. He does cool things with the camera here and there, keeping the audience, at the very least, curious about the resolve. But as per usual with B-list horror, it's the writing that's to blame. Meakins, alongside Simon Allen and Matthew Wilkinson, truly tripped up on the finale. After the supposedly most emotional moment of its runtime (a moment that genuinely made me laugh out loud), the film tries, in less than 30 seconds, to give an explanation for the digital paranormal in a very unconvincing way.
Choose or Die has technical aspects that deserve to be applauded and a couple of good surprises. However, it seems to have been written far too hastily, concluding in an absurd third act that incinerates all positives. Decent entertainment squandered.