Death of Me, 2020.
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman.
Starring Alex Essoe, Luke Hemsworth, Maggie Q, Kelly B. Jones, and Kat Ingkarat.
Vacationing on an island off the coast of Thailand, couple Neil and Christine awake hungover and with no memory of the previous night. They find footage on Neil’s camera, and watch, horrified, as Neil appears to murder Christine. With twenty-four hours until the next ferry and a typhoon threatening the island, Christine and Neil attempt to reconstruct the night’s events — and are snared in a web of mystery, black magic, and murder.
Death of Me is the latest mystery/thriller from distributor Saban whose approach seems to be acquiring or greenlighting projects that have solid, sometimes ingenious, premises without actually making sure it’s a good movie. In this case, with director Darren Lynn Bousman at the helm (responsible for a few of the Saw series entries before the franchise became borderline unwatchable and dumb beyond belief) there is a glimmer of hope that the worst of these staples can be overcome, and at most, there will be some gnarly gore and body horror. The latter is certainly present, but it comes at the misguided cost of culturally appropriating a nightmare Thai vacation making use of every retrograde cliché in the books.
Before getting to everything wrong with Death of Me (and there is a lot), let’s start at the beginning with the 17-minute pre-credits sequence that effectively establishes dread and the unknown. Waking up from blacking out, vacationing couple Christine and Neil (Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth respectively) are running late and in a hurry to make their ferry taking them away from the small tiny South Pacific island located somewhere in Thailand. As they gather their belongings hoping to not forget anything, there are TV and radio broadcasts warning of a potentially disastrous typhoon the likes of which the island has never seen, primarily because there has never been such a storm there in roughly 200 years.
In a prime example of the adage “everything that could go wrong will go wrong”, Christine and Neil are late to the ferry, lose their luggage, and are forced to hang around the island until at least 7 PM. Fortunately, Neil finds his phone which has plenty of pictures and even a video from the previous night that the pair use to get to the bottom of what happened. In a nutshell, there is some heavy drinking (including one spiked with something poisonous), a good luck charm necklace that seems to harness supernatural powers, and some disturbing footage of Neil and Christine drunkenly engaging in rough sex before the BDSM-like choking quickly turns to the more sinister act of him snapping her neck and burying her.
Defying all earthly logic, Christine is alive albeit bruised and newly terrified of Neil. She also begins throwing up dirt just as the owner of the Air B&B arrives and is confused that the couple has not left. She introduces herself (Alex Essoe) and her daughter, offering any assistance she can while naturally being suspicious of Neil. Nevertheless, they visit the doctor and attempt to track down the waitress that gave them an inexplicably strong concoction. As this happens, they are stared at by the Thai locals who seem to be turning an ongoing festival into a celebration of Christine. Clearly, what we have here is either some of the most contrived writing known to cinema (the script is a collaborative effort from Ari Margolis, James Morley III, and David Tish) or some malevolent townsfolk that is prepared to keep the couple here at any cost for some grand purpose.
Initially, it feels problematic that Christine and Neil, while surprised at what transpired in the video footage, don’t even try to hash out how and why this could have happened. The firmness of their relationship is never called into question, even when Neil abandons her during this whole mess to take photographs of the festival for his job. That’s apparently because they do have a solid relationship with no issues. With that in mind, Death of Me just becomes a bizarrely xenophobic chiller about evil Thai people with ulterior motives that increasingly become more deranged and violent. Darren Lynn Bousman also has to resort to cheap tactics such as constant hallucinations to generate any kind of suspense or intrigue beyond the premise; it all fizzles out right after the set-up is established.
Visually, Darren Lynn Bousman wisely decides to tear out the color the longer the movie goes on as our protagonists feel more isolated and oppressed. Sonically, the film deploys the same ominous hymn every five minutes that one might become tempted to mute the damn movie and just watch it with subtitles. Regardless, there’s massive plot development halfway into the film that is both legitimately surprising yet also the downfall of whatever goodwill remains. The proceedings descend into ritualistic chaos and all-around ugliness, but it’s also not like it matters considered by then Death of Me has long abandoned its intriguing concept of technology capturing and reminding people of unthinkable events that they must decode for themselves. There also seems to be some subtext about nature needing to take its course when it comes to the typhoon, but again, any reasonable point or compelling genre fun is lost amongst the messy narrative structure, wooden acting, predictability, and appropriating Thailand for generic cult purposes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com