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Death of Me Review

October 2, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Death of Me
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Death of Me Review  

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by: Ari Margolis, James Morley III, & David Tish

Maggie Q – Christine
Luke Hemsworth – Neil
Alex Essoe – Samantha
Ingkarat (Kat) Jaraswongkosol – Madee
Kelly Bronwen Jones – Kanda
Caledonia Burr – Nathida
Chatchawan Kamonsakpitak – Dr. Anuman

Running Time: 94 minutes
Rated R for violence, gore, sexual content, and language.

Considering that 2020 is a year that everyone probably needs to take a vacation from, it’s probably appropriate that horror in 2020 seems to want to take that notion and make it terrifying. We’ve had The Lodge, The Beach House, The Rental, and Lake of Death as just a few movies that use the idea of getting away from it all as a basis for fright films. Trust the horror genre to see a possible oasis from everything going on and think, “Yeah, I can make that scary too.”

But 2020 isn’t over yet, and so neither is vacation horror. That brings us to Death of Me which is available Friday in theatres, On Demand and Digital, a movie that seeks to take a gorgeous island getaway and turn it on its head. Darren Lynn Bousman takes a quick stop over to Thailand before returning to the Saw franchise in next year’s Spiral: From the Book of Saw with a film that finds its DNA in a strange but not ineffective mix of films anchored by a strong lead performance that keeps the film from stumbling too many times.

Death of Me stars Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth as Christine and Neil, a couple visiting a small island off the coast of Thailand. He’s a travel writer, doing a piece on this small, picturesque island which makes a point of pride to say that no typhoon has hit the island in over 200 years. But things are not copacetic as the film opens. A massive storm is on the way, and Neil and Christine awaken hungover with no memory of the previous night. They rush to the ferry only to find their passports and Christine’s phone are missing, making it impossible for them to go.

The two start to try and figure out exactly what went on the night before as things begin to get a bit weirder. Why was their hotel room trashed, and why did Christine wake up covered in dirt? Where did Christine get the amulet she’s suddenly wearing? They get an impossible answer when they discover two and a half hours of video on Neil’s camera which show the two getting drunk at a bar and being gifted the amulet, and eventually returning home where Neil sexually assaults Christine outside their rental, choking her until her neck breaks, and then burying her in the yard.

Of course, all of this is impossible, right? Christine is alive, after all. But it explains the bruises she finds on her neck, and the fact that she vomits up grass and dirt soon after. Confused and shocked, the two try to get some answers, only to learn that the island may not be the vacation dream that they thought it to be.

The script for Death Of Me doesn’t do much to hide its inspirations. In fact, it leans heavily into them and even has Neil and Christine reference one in the dialogue. The screenwriting trio of Ari Margolis, James Morley III, & David Tish cobble together a film that plays with – and in some cases almost directly lifts from – the well-trod horror concepts of films like Wicker Man, Midsommar and The Grudge. Turning the everyman protagonists that we’re supposed to identify with into outsiders navigating a culture and even language we don’t understand is effective at building a sense of unease in viewers.

Add in a nice dose of The Hangover: Part II, right down to the Thai setting but with the humor stripped away, and we have a film that isn’t the most original concept you’ll see this year but hits on tried and true themes. There are some problems with that; while the trio’s initial mystery is intriguing and gives us an in to get invested, it’s not too hard to figure out what’s going on by the end of the first act and after that it’s just waiting for things to really ramp up.

Fortunately, Bousman is able to take the roadmap provided by the script and build out a solid thriller, buoyed by the actors. Foremost among those is Maggie Q, who is making her second horror in paradise film this year after January’s Fantasy Island. This is a far better film than that risible mess, in part because she has more to do. Q is the centerpiece of this film and while she’s not the badass her that she was in her Nikita days, she’s still inhabiting a capable character.

Q also establishes excellent chemistry with her co-star in Hemsworth, who seems to be relishing the chance to do a little more on screen than he often gets a chance to do. He has to navigate a tricky character in Neil, who makes some lunkheaded decisions that only characters in a horror film would do, but he makes the role work by nature of his humanity and his dynamic with Q.

As the film progresses, that dynamic becomes important to carry the viewer through the second act, which sags a bit. The introduction of the couple’s Airbnb hostess Samantha (Essoe) and a tattoo shop owner (Jones) who seems to know more than she’s comfortable saying spice up the proceedings a bit, as does a return visit to the bar the couple got drunk at, which brings their server Madee (Jaraswongkosol) back into the picture. All of this keeps things from collapsing as the signs become more and more clear what’s going on and we prepare for the inevitable.

Bousman is a director with an occasionally uneven resume, but he does best when he gets to marinate his films with a B-horror sensibility. He gets the chance here, employing some solid gore effects and creepy images to sell the tension. There are some narrative shortcuts that he has to navigate, but he generally pulls it off and injects a bit of meta sensibility in a few lines. His most successful tactic though is when he turns the camera on Q and lets her race across the island – shot beautifully by José David Montero – and take control of her scenes. Margolis, Morley, and Tish pull it together with a late-stage plot turn, but mostly this is a film that finds what success it can out of its star, its setting, and some fun genre elements. Most everything else is just along for the ride, which is wise enough not to go too long and wear out its welcome.

Death of Me is available In Theatres, On Demand and Digital October 2nd.

The final score: review Average
The 411
Death of Me finds a moderate amount of success thanks to its willingness to embrace its trappings and the efforts of its stars, especially Maggie Q. Director Darren Lynn Bousman elevates a script that may not have stood with less confident talent in front of and behind the camera and while there's a pacing issue in how the second act stumbles on its momentum, it's able to pull it all together by the end. This is the kind of vacation horror flick where you may only want to book the one trip, but it will be a diversion that's decently worth your time.

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Death of Me, Jeremy Thomas