Studio: Saban Films
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Writer: Ari Margolis, James Morley III, David Tish
Producer: Lee Nelson, David Tish, Charles Dorfman
Stars: Maggie Q, Alex Essoe, Ingkarat Jaraswongkosol, Kelly Bronwen Jones, Caledonia Burr, Luke Hemsworth
After waking up with no memory of what happened the night before, American tourists vacationing on a remote Thailand island learn they¡¯ve become pawns in a mysterious ritual.
Horror has done a number on my already limited desire to vacation outside convenience or do any truly exotic travel. Preferring indoors to outdoors anyway, I have little interest in camping for instance because if fright films have taught me anything, it¡¯s that nothing good ever happens in the woods.
Movies like ¡°Death of Me¡± are a chief reason why I¡¯m apprehensive about taking a holiday abroad. You¡¯re at a disadvantage to begin with when you¡¯re subject to unfamiliar laws in a land where you don¡¯t speak the language. Lose your passport or cellphone service on top of that and you¡¯re completely stripped of control in any unforeseen situation. ¡°Death of Me¡± goes beyond tapping into that sense of unsafe helplessness. The movie fracks those fears with a massive rig that puts a miles-long pipeline between ¡®stranger in a strange land¡¯ phobias and vicarious psychological uncertainty.
Travel reporter Neil (Luke Hemsworth) brought his wife Christine (Maggie Q) along on an excursion to a tiny Thailand island. Their adventurous getaway turns into an alarming guessing game when the couple wakes one morning with total amnesia regarding whatever caused their bodies to become caked in dirt.
The elevator pitch for ¡°Death of Me¡± was probably only four words. ¡°The Hangover, but horror.¡± Except Christine and Neil¡¯s circumstance is less about figuring out precisely what happened and more about uncovering what comes next as the present portion of their story progresses.
We¡¯re in the mix of the mystery alongside the couple right from the get-go since ¡°Death of Me¡± starts when they wake up. Viewers feel their immediate frustration because all of the information we have is all of the information they have too. Personal belongings are missing. A strange amulet sits around Christine¡¯s neck. The TV talks about an approaching typhoon. Our eyes and their eyes soak in everything as a potential clue to solve a question no one even knows to ask yet.
After Christine and Neil realize they¡¯re unable to leave without any identification, Neil finds a cellphone video recorded the night before. Footage depicts an impossible event neither he nor his wife can believe, even though it¡¯s onscreen in front of them. Then Christine begins vomiting earthen items and experiencing haunting hallucinations. The pair quickly wonders if there might be as much of an unknown nightmare in front of them as there is behind them.
With breadcrumbs placed far apart on the trail of growing tension, ¡°Death of Me¡± takes its time unspooling the story. Its secrets aren¡¯t plentiful though, so the film spins in redundant crypticness that stretches suspense further than substance can fully sustain.
Yet you don¡¯t necessarily notice the content¡¯s sparseness because unsettling sound design and Christine¡¯s constant visions won¡¯t permit attention spans to wander. Long leers from villagers, rituals of hectic revelry, and sudden visual shocks level overall weirdness even when rhythm loses balance. ¡°Death of Me¡± can get repetitive, particularly when Christine¡¯s visions return to the same subjects over and over again. But the persistent strangeness of its sights and sounds turns ¡°Death of Me¡± into an unnerving travelogue capable of roping attuned minds into paranoid dread.
Curious camerawork carves holes in the film¡¯s effectiveness. Conspicuous cutaways meant to sow seeds of suspicion draw unneeded attention since everyone who isn¡¯t Christine already is a possible accomplice in a conspiracy. Shots that focus on a particular person¡¯s expression or a cup with a discolored substance seemingly worry the audience can¡¯t catch on to what¡¯s obvious. The lens also has a peculiarly pervy fascination for following Maggie Q from behind so her shorts-clad posterior often occupies center frame. ¡°Death of Me¡± also includes a scene where Maggie Q rushes around her room in her underwear, just like she did in a bikini in ¡°Fantasy Island¡± (review here) as though it¡¯s the most unexpected contractual requirement conceivable.
VFX aren¡¯t the best either. ¡°Death of Me¡± includes more than one instance of eye trauma certain to make uncomfortable viewers squirm. But whenever digital enhancements have to make such moments work, they look like video game assets superimposed over live-action footage.
Although occasionally iffy coverage and spotty CGI put pimples on otherwise smooth skin, having veteran genre director Darren Lynn Bousman at the helm helps ¡°Death of Me¡± achieve straightforward goals as a few-frills thriller. It¡¯s a project engineered for journeymen to put together efficiently and economically, which is exactly how this cast and crew executes. ¡°Death of Me¡± takes a page from Blumhouse¡¯s book to produce a movie that gets enough presence out of a few recognizable actors and enough plot out of a simple premise. Flames of fear about overseas trips generally fan themselves, but films that go places like ¡°Death of Me¡± does certainly add to that anxiety.
Review Score: 65