Review: Gross-out horror ‘Choose or Die’ on Netflix and more movies to watch this weekend
Iola Evans plays a cash-strapped college kid named Kayla who gets immersed in a dangerous video game in “Choose or Die,” a frequently disturbing horror film with echoes of “Saw,” “Ready Player One” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Though the movie lacks a strong central story, screenwriter Simon Allen and director Toby Meakins have come up with a genuinely clever concept that could be repeatable in multiple sequels — provided that the first wave of Netflix viewers aren’t too put off by the film’s many gross-out moments.
Kayla and her friend Hal (Asa Butterfield) have dug up a copy of “CURS>R,” an old text-based adventure game from the ‘80s that promised a big prize but never paid out. Kayla gives “CURS>R” a try, after listening to an audio prompt from Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund himself. She soon finds herself confronted with a series of seemingly mundane choices, reflecting what’s happening around her. Like: Does she want her diner waitress to stop repeatedly smashing glasses on the floor? Seems like an easy question, but: What if she selects “yes,” and the waitress starts eating the broken glass?
Meakins and Allen keep the audience guessing as to whether Kayla is hallucinating the grotesque scenarios the game keeps throwing at her. That mystery ultimately proves less compelling than the scenarios themselves, which range from mildly off-putting to downright stomach-turning — but which are always fiendishly well-constructed. The movie is itself kind of a dare, aimed at younger genre fans accustomed to playing games that are brutally hard.
'Choose or Die'
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: Available now on Netflix
In 2004, Irish writer-director Brendan Muldowney drew attention on the festival circuit with his clever horror short “The Ten Steps,” about a babysitter nervously descending into a dark basement during a power outage. Muldowney has now restaged that terrifying scene for a new feature film, “The Cellar,” with Elisha Cuthbert playing a mom who listens on the phone as her teenage daughter heads downstairs to change a blown fuse and then … never returns.
“The Cellar” suffers some growing pains in its expansion from a brilliantly effective 10-minute creep-out to a full 90-minute haunted house movie. Muldowney overloads on explanations for what might be going on in the family’s suspiciously affordable new country home. Perhaps they’ve just bought a portal to some kind of hell-dimension. Or perhaps the property is governed by strange mathematical laws, which would explain why the residents keep going into trances and counting out loud.
These different ideas never fully develop into anything truly chilling, though. They all feel too much like remnants of other movies about demons and ghosts. What does connect is Cuthbert’s anxious, guilt-tinged performance as a mom who spends her days as an in-demand marketing consultant, helping brands reach the coveted youth demographic. “The Cellar” really works best as a metaphor about parents who can only watch from a distance as their children get consumed by the adult world’s savage cynicism.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Available now on Shudder
Director Kiah Roache-Turner and his co-writer/producer brother Tristan borrowed from “Mad Max” and “Night of the Living Dead” for their 2014 cult hit “Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead,” the epic story of a zombie plague that divides society into those who can concoct gadgets to survive and those doomed to become either monsters or food. The sequel “Wyrmwood: Apocalypse” resembles the follow-up films to George Miller’s and George Romero’s follow-ups to their own low-budget drive-in classics as the Roache-Turners deliver a film distinguished by its bigger ideas, on a (relatively) bigger scale.
The “Apocalypse” plot can be hard to follow at times, given that it has a larger cast, spread across different locations and storylines. (The movie feels a little like a full season of a TV series, compressed into just under 90 minutes.) The Roache-Turners have a cadre of mad scientists and soldiers performing experiments on the ghouls, along with distinct groups of survivors with special abilities — including one who’s a human-zombie hybrid. This film is all about overkill, with nearly every scene featuring some imaginative new way that the living have found to exploit the bodies and souls of the dead. “Apocalypse” is equal parts exhausting and impressive — though thanks to the giddy fun the filmmakers appear to be having, it’s mostly the latter.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Available now on VOD
It’s tough to explain exactly what happens in the loopy drama “Chariot,” a movie that writer-director Adam Sigal means to be at least somewhat baffling. The basic premise is this: A young man named Harrison (Thomas Mann) plagued by recurring dreams turns to psychologist Dr. Karn (John Malkovich), who becomes concerned that his patient is overly fixated on a quirky new neighbor, Maria (Rosa Salazar). Over the course of his treatment, Harrison is alarmed to find that other folks in his building have odd psychological conditions — and that they all seem to know a lot about his private life.
Although Sigal gradually pieces together the facts of Harrison’s case, a lot of the film’s allusions to reincarnation and repressed memories remain just vague enough to allow for broad interpretation. “Chariot” is mostly about the moment-to-moment experiences of its perplexed hero, as he tries to figure out what Dr. Karn and his new acquaintances expect of him. The movie is also a strong spotlight for Salazar, a consistently fascinating and magnetic actress whose funny, warmhearted and ultimately inscrutable Maria represents the potential for meaningful human connection always just beyond Harrison’s reach.
Rated: R for language, some sexual material and drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: In select theaters and on VOD
Deborah Anderson’s documentary “Women of the White Buffalo” offers impressions of two South Dakota reservations, via interviews with nine Lakota women of varying ages who have witnessed the ravages of poverty, addiction and societal neglect firsthand. Anderson weaves together their stories, listening as her subjects share both shocking modern-day anecdotes and tales of their ancestral heritage. The film is part lament and part tribute, honoring the legacy of women who today — had American progress been less relentless or thoughtless — might be leading a thriving nation of Indigenous people, rather than fighting to keep their communities alive.
'Women of the White Buffalo'
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Playing: Available now on VOD
Also on VOD
“Dual” stars Karen Gillan as a sickly woman in a near-future society where people have the option to clone themselves for the sake of loved ones who might miss them when they’re gone. Written and directed by Riley Stearns, this dark science-fiction dramedy follows what happens when a clone’s original model changes her mind and decides to eliminate her own double. (VOD, also in theaters)
“Paris, 13th District” is director Jacques Audiard’s dreamy and romantic look at the lives of modern young Parisians, adapted from several short comic book stories by cartoonist Adrian Tomine. Shot in black and white, the film recalls the ‘60s French New Wave, updated for the 2020s. (VOD, also in theaters)
Lucie Zhang, Makita Samba and Noémie Merlant anchor this loveliest, mellowest work in some time from the French director Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet,” “Rust and Bone”).
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week, after a phenomenal run that brought audiences back to theaters in droves. The third of the Tom Holland-starring web-slinger pictures, this film plays around in the Marvel multiverse, bringing surprises and cameos galore. (Sony)
“C’mon C’mon” stars Joaquin Phoenix as a philosophical radio journalist who forms a bond with his young nephew when circumstances require him to take care of the boy. Writer-director Mike Mills shoots the film in beautiful black and white, and emphasizes the small moments of humor, heartbreak and humanity between two lost souls from different generations. (A24)
“The Novice” is a remarkable feature filmmaking debut for writer-director Lauren Hadaway, offering an alternately thrilling and terrifying look at an obsessive-compulsive college freshman (well-played by Isabelle Fuhrman) who becomes so devoted to her rowing team that she pushes away her friends and derails a promising academic career. (IFC)
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