Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 8, 2020)
If we take movies as truth, we should learn never to travel anywhere. Another lesson on all the bad events that can follow when you leave home comes from 2020’s horror thriller Death of Me.
While on vacation near Thailand, married couple Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil Oliver (Luke Hemsworth) wake up in a disheveled state. In a bad way, they remember nothing about what led them to that situation.
Eventually the mystery deepens, as they discover a strange video that appears to show Neil as he kills Christine. Stuck on the island for at least 24 hours with a typhoon on the way, they attempt to figure out what happened – and how to prevent catastrophe.
Given her appearance in 2020’s Fantasy Island reboot, Death offers Maggie Q’s second stab this year at a dark tale set in a tropical location. Can we assume a remake of The Island resides in her future?
Whatever threats of typecasting Ms. Q may deal with, Death does come with some interesting conceits, mainly due to the weird video. Granted, that doesn’t become the more original concept, as other horror tales used terrifying videos, but it still shows some potential.
Unfortunately, Death never finds a way to explore its concepts in a satisfying manner. Whatever promise the creepy theme manifests fails to develop beyond standard horror tropes.
Perhaps we shouldn’t expect more from director Darren Lynn Bousman, as his filmography stands out for one reason: the Saw movies. Bousman made that franchise’s second through fourth films, all of which earned bunches of money, and all of which received pretty awful reviews.
I never watched any of Bousman’s Saw flicks, so my only experience with his filmography came from 2011’s 11-11-11. A misbegotten effort, the movie flopped as a creative work.
As I glanced at my review of 11-11-11, I became tempted to cut and paste it for use here. Like the 2011 movie, Death suffers from Bousman’s heavy-handed direction, as it lacks the self-confidence to let its potential terror evolve naturally.
Granted, some of that seems inevitable given the concept. Because Death reveals its twist – the terrifying video – virtually at the tale’s start, it needs to begin with a sense of dread.
Still, Bousman lays on the “creep factor” so thick that the movie comes with no room to grow. With freaky visuals and spooky music jacked to “11” literally from the start, Death can’t build the tension or drama.
It doesn’t help that the story itself doesn’t figure out a particularly interesting path. I get the feeling the screenwriters came up with the twist related to the scary video and built a narrative around it.
This doesn’t work, as the whole project feels contrived. Death works so hard to connect everything to the video that it never seems especially organic or fluid.
Instead, Death plods and dallies as it pushes toward various inevitable horrors. The narrative tosses odd images at us without much real plot push to involve us, so we wind up left with a slow journey toward an inevitable “scary” finale.
At least Death boasts better acting than the wooden fare found in Bousman’s 11-11-11. Despite their thin roles, Q and Hemsworth manage to create reasonably solid performances. They appear to buy into this nonsense well enough that we almost go along with them.
Almost, but not quite, as the lackluster narrative leaves us cold. Death of Me shows potential that it never achieves.