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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Review: Play or Die

Director: Jaques Klueger
Screenplay: Amiel Bartana and Jaques Klueger
Year: 2019

Synopsis: Lucas and Chloe immerse in a virtual game known as Paranoia that consists of solving puzzles. The game developers decide to make it more interesting and create an experience similar to escape rooms where only a few players are invited. Players soon discover that this game has turned too real and that their lives might be in danger.

"Play or Die" is the newest horror movie to ride the wave of the escape room topic. Although hard to believe, this movie is not inspired in “Escape Room”, released this same year, with whom it shares some similarities. The inspiration for this movie comes from a popular French book known as “Puzzle”, from writer Frank Thilliez adapted for this movie by debuting screenwriters Amiel Bartana and Jaques Klueger, who also directs it.

“Play or Die” follows Lucas, who is contacted by Chloe, and which relationship with her is hard to explain, to be a part of a game that consists in solving puzzles. Lucas has an almost supernatural gift to solve puzzles, which makes him a great candidate to participate and win the promised million euros. The game known as Paranoia takes place in a building that hosted a psychiatric hospital, which would have been the first signal for me to realize something was wrong and get out of there. While they start solving the puzzles inside the rooms of the old hospital, all players start realizing that there is much more to the game than just money and bragging rights. 

This movie has little character development, but this is something done purposely. Lucas and Chloe are the ones that spend the most time on screen and we just get a little background information and we get to know more about them by their actions. The rest of the characters barely have a few minutes on screen and their most interesting moments involve some uncomfortable or painful event where their lives are at risk. The reason for this is that Lueger and Bartana putt all their eggs in the basket of the final revelation, and the poor character development keeps the viewers guessing about all the characters and the final twist comes out as a complete surprise.

At the same time, this poor character development, particularly for the protagonists, ends up creating two characters which are hard to root for. The other problem is that they try to fit too many puzzles into the movie and Lucas, the main responsible for solving them, does it with agility, which presents him as exaggeratedly smart. This disproportionate intelligence alongside the fast pace of the movie affects creating a sense of danger for each room. The idea behind every puzzle is great and the movie could have benefited if they would have been explored more deeply. Without offending my intelligence, I don't feel capable of solving even the first puzzle presented and I would still be there hoping that my partner in the game would come and save me.

The technical aspect of the movie has a few interesting things. The protagonists Lucas and Chloe are very well interpreted by Charley Palmer Rothwell (“Dunkirk”) and Roxane Mesquida (“A Ma Soeur!”) and they keep the couple chemistry in this strange relationship that also helps to keep you far from being able to predict the final twist in which this movie strongly relies on and with good reason. The visuals have a Giallo film style that seems to pay homage to the iconic Dario Argento using red and blue neon tones contrasted with grays and other sober colors, very well used to create a strong identity. Also, the use of the classical piece “Swan Lake” while inside one of the most aggressive rooms is another example of good use of contrast and creating identity.

“Play or Die” uses an idea the is becoming very popular in the horror genre but does not make the best out of it. It tries to present too many ideas and only leaves the impression that there could have been a lot more done with everyone. Still, it is entertaining, and the ending is unexpected and efficient in managing to astonish the viewer.

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