I’m a sucker for horror films centering games. Make it a video game and I am so very in. I mean, I’m someone who revisits Stay Alive yearly and now, Netflix has added another video game horror to the genre with Choose or Die. With gore and moments manufactured to illicit the most squirm from its audience, Choose or Die is a fright that works perfectly visually even if it stumbles when it comes to plot.
Directed by Toby Meakins, written by Simon Allen, and created by Meakins, Allen, and Matthew James Wilkinson, Choose or Die follows a young coder named Kayla (Iola Evans) who is struggling both professionally and at home. Having suffered a family tragedy she lives in a bad part of town with her mother who self-medicates with drugs, and is beholden to a thug who keeps making advances on her. On top of that, she’s a cleaner in a giant building that doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other than just to exist.
When Kayla finds a thrifted 80s survival horror game in her friend Isaac’s (Asa Butterfield) place and begins to play she realizes that this turn-based text game is more than she bargained for. With each choice bearing real-world ramifications in terrifying and grizzly ways, Kayla sets out to find the source and escape the game before it’s too late.
With each level of the game initiating at the same time every night, Choose or Die is a gameplay loop that pushes intensity and urgency the more things are uncovered. As a concept, Choose or Die makes perfect sense. Text-based games from the 80s put the player in a position to have an entire adventure by choosing one of two choices and causing branching ramifications and developments based on what they choose. Additionally, the ominous “Choose or Die” eliminates Kayla’s choice of not competing which pushes the story into one of immediately gnarly consequences.
With someone eating glass, another with a face full of needles, and another still with a tongue out and even more, Choose or Die thrives on its violence. The tense moments before an act is performed is what pulled a squirming reaction from me. A slow focus on the person being pulled into the chaotic violence, the film isn’t shy about blood and wants to make sure that every moment of pain is captured.
Choose or Die is a film that knows where it is in its genre, embraces it, and tries to push it as far as it can without breaking the toybox its playing in. This results in a fairly paint-by-numbers plot with tropes that tend to go where you expect, but the delivery of these elements is what makes it a thrilling watch.
That said, my biggest critique of the film is the choice to make Kayla’s mother a drug addict. Seeing Black mothers in such a light in 2022 when it most certainly doesn’t serve the plot is a stereotype that serves no one. Struck by grief, Kayla’s mother is self-medicating sure, but the way that the film dances around her pain makes the addiction more like an unnecessary addition that doesn’t see the racist stereotypes it’s based in. Remove it and you still end up with the film in the same spot.
Outside of that though, there isn’t some genre-redefining narrative, and the film itself doesn’t offer up much in character growth or message and you know what? That’s okay. Some movies can be a fun horror flick to pop on for an hour and a half and walk away from. There isn’t depth, but there is an understanding of gameplay that is actually quite clever.
Choose or Die is a fun genre film that packs quite a bit of fright into only 94-minutes. As simple as the game type its based on, the film feels like a genre win even with its stumbles. Having taken the gametype to heart, Choose or Die executes a deadly game with accuracy and dark twists on choices made that lead up to a climax that has a payoff that absolutely works. Sure there are some bumps in the road, but this Netflix Original is one hell of a way to spend a night in.
Choose of Die is available now, exclusively on Netflix.
Choose or Die
- Rating - 6/106/10
Having taken the gametype to heart, Choose or Die executes a deadly game with accuracy and dark twists on choices made that lead up to a climax that has a payoff that absolutely works. Sure there are some bumps in the road, but this Netflix Original is one hell of a way to spend a night in.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.