2020 | R | starring Maggie Q, Luke Hemsworth | directed by Darren Lynn Bousman | 1 hr 34 mins |
In a remote island off the coast of Thailand, a vacationing couple – Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil (Luke Hemsworth, Westworld) wake up in a muddy room, covered in bruises with no memory of the night before. Unable to get back to the mainland, they find a recording of the night before that shows one of them killing the other and race against an coming hurricane to find out the truth.
A little film shot on location in Thailand (and looks it, which is nice), Death of Me sounds like it has an intriguing mystery box premise – a video where you see yourself die – to unravel. Christine and Neil pour through the 2 1/2 hour (!) cell phone video to find evidence that they may have been drugged and victimized by the supernatural. Instead of the supernatural peeling back an existing rot in their relationship and creating increasing paranoia between the two, Me (not to be confused with Dead Like Me or Dead to Me), hurdles itself toward a more traditional solution that is as cliche-riddled as it is completely ridiculous. Our confused heroes soon stumble into what seems like an obvious and large scale conspiracy, involving the statuesque smiling residents of the entire island, to keep them there. Long before the movie is ready to reveal itself, the reality of what’s going on becomes absurdly obvious and Christine and Neil have to become increasingly oblivious to keep the film above water. Only once, several hours into their situation do they acknowledge how bizarre what they saw on the tape is and how it doesn’t jive with reality. A suspicion that should inform how they process everything after that, instead of just – you know – going back to normal. They behave in an entirely mechanical way, because that’s what the script requires and because without it the movie would just blink out of existence.
Directed by Darren Lyn Bouseman, most notably a member of the seemingly defunct Splat Pack, Bousman’s filmography ranges from movies as fun as Saw II and as terrible as Saw III with Repo: The Genetic Opera thrown in to make him interesting. What’s interesting is that Death of Me is exactly the kind of horror-mined-out-of-xenophobia that fellow Splat Packer Eli Roth popularized, starting with Hostel. There is a very legitimate fear buried at the core of these films, of being trapped in a foreign country without an ability to communicate and get help. Bousman’s focus is all over the map here though and instead of mining that he leans into the occult. Death of Me is better than Roth’s ghastly The Green Inferno, which is probably the world’s faintest praise.
It’s a convoluted script that will have it’s characters walk past oversized sacrificial effigies of themselves and not think anything of it, but then dash off a a self-aware meta reference to The Wicker Man. Instead of working the problem in a compelling way, Q and Hemsworth are forced to run in frustrating circles. Q goes from trying to convince people she saw her husband die to searching the island for her husband. It’s as if a half re-written script was slapped together. Bousman uses backyard close-up camera work to try to create a claustrophobic feel and take a swing and a miss at anxiety cinema. The framework is all just too goofy for that.
The film isn’t shy about blood, guts and torture but does shy away from that feeling of dread and hopelessness that makes cult films like The Wicker Man or Midsommar such effective blood-boilers. In parts this seems out of a cinematic inability to create that tone, particularly when we get to the movie’s silly climax where Bousman could have gone for something truly horrific and bails completely. I wanted this movie to be meaner and nastier. It’s not even good exploitation.
Death of Me is two movies rolled into one, a cautionary travel horror film and an impossible mystery box premise and both are at odds with each other. Transparently predictable, both too ugly in parts and too safe in others with dumb characters forced into contrived behavior. It’s junk from top to bottom.