Review: DEATH TO ME, Overly Familiar, Cliched Horror Entry
Maggie Q, Luke Hemsworth and Alex Essoe star in Darren Lynn Bousman's horror mystery.
Prolific filmmaker Darren Lynn Bousman (St. Agatha, Abattoir, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day, Repo! The Genetic Opera) made the horror genre his metaphorical home, if not necessarily his own, after he stepped in to direct three back-to-back Saw sequels in the oughts after the original director, James Wan, moved on to conjuring bigger and better things for horror and non-horror audiences alike.
Bousman moved on himself to more personal, non-franchise work in the horror genre, but unsurprisingly failed to match the financial success or pop-culture impact of the Saw franchise he helped elevate to the next level. After audiences became increasingly disinterested with the repetitive, stale nature of a seemingly never-ending series, the producers put the franchise into temporary hibernation. That hibernation will finally end, however, with Bousman’s return to the Saw universe next year, Spiral.
Until then, though, Bousman’s fans will have to content themselves with Death to Me, a middling entry in the folk-horror/cautionary travel sub-genre that Bousman directed from a haphazardly written, cliche-heavy screenplay attributed to Ari Margolis, James Morley III, and David Tish. Liberally borrowing, if not outright stealing, ideas ranging from a 1960s episode of seminal anthology series, The Twilight Zone (specifically a supernaturally powered TV that allows a deeply unhappy man to see himself murdering his shrewish wife), The Hangover series (minus stray tigers, Mike Tyson, or unfortunate face tattoos), and Wicker Man-inspired native folklore (one character deliberately calls out the similarities to The Wicker Man in case viewers think they’re inadvertently watching a stealth, Thai-set remake), Death to Me never rises above a loose-fitting compendium of its overly obvious influences and homages, mixed in with dollops of regressive, old-school exoticism and occasionally cringe-inducing xenophobia.
With the perpetually underused, underappreciated, and underrated Maggie Q, an actress who’s deserved much better than the roles she’s frequently offered, including the disastrous Fantasy Island big-screen adaptation from earlier this year, as the lead, Christine, a woman who, along with her travel journalist husband, Neil (Luke “The Third” Hemsworth), awaken on an isolated island off the coast of Thailand hungover from a night of hard partying with a collective black hole for their memories, Death of Me certainly opens with an attention-grabbing premise and a marginally root-worthy couple (Maggie Q more than the third Hemsworth brother), but a premise can take you only so far.
Unfortunately, Death of Me goes exactly where so many horror entries have gone before, where even the most casual of horror fans can accurately guess the next action beat (and the one after that and …), minus the occasional well-executed, gore-drenched hallucination and/or out-of-nowhere scare that give Bousman a chance to do what he does best genre-wise.
With nothing to keep them on the island, Christine and Neil attempt to catch the last ferry of the day. Spoiler alert: They don’t (lost/forgotten passports), leaving them with 24 hours until the next ferry and nothing to do in an island paradise except figuring out why there’s video on Neil’s phone of Christine’s violent murder and subsequent burial.
The mystery behind the video could go any number of ways: It could be a video from the future, J-horror-style or it could be exactly what it looks like, a murder and burial. But with Christine only slightly worse for wear (i.e., alive, breathing, and wearing a curiously odd pendant around her neck), it’s up to them, a Western couple completely out of their comfort zone, to discover what happened and what’s happening or about to happen on an island and locals that the 21st century, not to mention (but we’ll mention them, anyway) the Western religious and spiritual values, apparently forgot.
Those Thai locals are where Bousman and his screenwriting team repeatedly trip themselves up, an own goal they probably could have avoided with a slightly more enlightened attitude toward Thai culture and non-Westerners. At first, the decision not to subtitle the locals when they speak in Thai or a Thai dialect works to create an additional layer of empathy for audience stand-ins Christine and Neil.
They’re strangers in a strange land, after all (as we are too), but it quickly devolves from plot choice to gimmick to an excuse for an exoticism towards and a xenophobia against the “othered” locals (they’re strange at first, terrifying later, then mortally dangerous last). It’s hard not to let that xenophobia, intentional or not, influence how we feel or should feel about Death of Me, especially as it slowly (all too slowly) builds towards an inevitable, inevitably dour, sour denouement.
Along with a limited theatrical release, Death of Me is available to rent via VOD platforms.