DEATH OF ME
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
I reckon almost everyone reading this will have spent many a fuzzy morning trying to remember the specifics of what happened the night before. It’s scary, not remembering who you may or may not have called in the middle of the night, or what you may have said in front of friends. A feeling of loss of control that’s a stable of horror and comedy alike. It’s also the starting point to the latest film from Saws 2-4 and Repo creator Darren Lynn Bousman. Dude, Where’s My Abattoir?
Vacationing couple Neil and Christine are in Thailand, where he’s meant to be photographing a festival for work, waking in their apartment with a killer headache and little memory of the night before. Also, due to a series of mess-ups, they have missed their boat off the island they’re on. Luckily, they find footage on Neil’s camera – though after they see themselves knocking back spirits, it shows what looks like him killing her outside a big, scary house. With twenty-four hours until the next ferry can take them away and the first typhoon in centuries threatening the island, they attempt to reconstruct the night’s forgotten events – starting in the bar. Before long, they find themselves in a web of mystery, dark magic, and violent murder. Think a horror take on The Hangover 2, down to the casual xenophobia and high fidelity to an established template.
For the former, horror films about Americans abroad often struggle with depicting people from different cultures in a way that makes unhelpful without necessarily being threatening. After all, our heroes have to seem like they’re alone out there. Death of Me is far from the most problematic depiction I’ve seen, though it errs way too much towards being a film about evil Thai people misleading tourists. And while I can’t say I was surprised, I was disappointed. Their rituals are played to looks as creepy as possible, and there’s an uncomfortable conspiratorial plot. Ironically, it’s the second part that I didn’t see coming – the film’s predictability. Particularly given the director is a guy who has previously told me he’d prefer to get one-star reviews than do something middle of the road. Sadly I can’t think of a more apt way to describe this film that takes its primary cues from The Wicker Man (which it mentions) and a classic movie I shan’t mention for spoilers. Among a host of contemporary supernatural flicks. The lack of originality is annoying since some of it works for me – there are impressive set pieces, and the postscript scenes are harrowing. Yet for the most part, Death of Me is a bland, obvious mystery that undervalues its most promising aspects.
Like Richard Kelly movie The Box, there’s an intriguing set-up here: why would Neil kill Christine? And why are they both still there? After the lengthy pre-credit sequence, I wanted to know the answer. The trouble is its promise falls by the wayside the more it gets explored. Part of this comes from the reliance mentioned above on the visual language and tropes of better films. Though an abrupt change in scale also renders the core riddle relatively unimportant, and most of the characters become faceless. As a film about a relationship put under pressure, and the paranoia that Neil could be lying to Christine, it also falls apart. The couple quickly decides to trust each other, meaning the inciting incident loses its most dramatic angle. From there, it’s exposition-driven approach means we don’t get to know Christine or Neil much as characters or care about their bond. Something I think should be essential when its really them versus everyone else. And when so much of the running time, before the anticlimactic resolution, is spent watching things that we know are fantasies and thus can’t hurt them.
I suspect it was the hallucinatory aspect of the movie that attracted Bousman to the project- along with its dynamic setting (he has a habit of going cool places). But while Death of Me stays characteristically beautiful throughout, with each shot of the bay resembling a postcard, the plot eventually collapses under the weight of its tediousness and incoherent storytelling. He’s a brilliant director when he has the right material, and it’s a shame this film that doesn’t nurture his natural talent for macabre playfulness or steam-punk sensibilities. Even the ending, which you’d think would be a fever dream, is lifeless. His is not the only talent that goes to waste. Both Q and Hemsworth are good in roles that neither warrant performers of their calibre or give them enough to work with beyond confusion. A messy, unsatisfying, missed opportunity. And something you’ll quickly forget about too.
Death of Me will be released on digital and DVD on 23rd November.