Death of Me (2020)
★ / ★★★★
Here is a story that takes place on a gorgeous Thai island filled with beautiful people and curious customs, but the screenplay by Arli Margolis, James Morley III, and David Tish is left to sit under the sun to rot, as if setting alone were enough to save an elevator pitch: “The Hangover” but a horror film. It is lazy, uninteresting, not at all entertaining, and borderline offensive—both in terms of how the filmmakers expect that what they deliver is good enough for their viewers and its one-dimensional portrayal of an eastern culture whereby superstition and pseudoscience hold enough weight to challenge reality. A way to deal with the latter in a respectful manner is to provide complexity—the very element that this picture sorely lacks. It makes for a depressing experience.
The enigma is this: Married couple Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil (Luke Hemsworth), covered in mud and grime, awake in their Airbnb with no memory of how they got home. They wish to return to the mainland, but passport is required for travel. Theirs is nowhere to be found. Desperate to find answers, Neil figures that his cellphone might contain pictures of their wild night. He finds a two-hour video and hits play. It shows Neil not only choking Christine to death but also burying her lifeless body. But this cannot be. His wife is sitting next to him, very much alive.
This is a premise with potential because it promises an investigation: westerners navigating their way through a foreign land in which everything is challenge, from the geography of the island, having to think twice when taking action out of respect local traditions, down to the language barrier. But the film is a classic case of a movie that never stops beginning. Halfway through its running time, the couple remains flabbergasted about their memory loss and their progression in finding out the truth is pretty much nonexistent. We feel the work biding its time to reach the ninety-minute mark. It doesn’t respect us because it fails to value our time.
One of its circuitous approach is pummeling us with hallucinatory sequences so generic and dull that at one point I wondered if director Darren Lynn Bousman had actually seen effective, dream-like, horror pictures pre-1990s. Because to say that his approach being laughable is to be kind: “real time” events are presented in regular color and hallucinations are given a blue-green tinge coupled with quick, manic cuts. There is no flow, no rhythm, no flavor. It looks uninspired and downright ugly. One cannot help but to wonder, too, that perhaps Bousman made the picture under duress; it feels like a project helmed by a most jaded and pessimistic filmmaker who ought to find another career path. I was disgusted.
Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man” is brought up at one point. Clearly, that is the inspiration for this drivel. But if one were to put that 1973 classic right alongside this film, the difference is night and day. The former is rooted in suspense. It involves a lot of genuine questioning—and at times we don’t know the sort of questions to ask because the events are increasingly bizarre. That movie is constantly evolving. “Death of Me,” on the other hand, is stuck with a premise that goes nowhere until the final act, if that. It wants us to ask questions but there is no sense of wonder or mystery. On offer is simply a parade of events in which the punchline often involves Christine screaming, yelling, passing out, and waking up in a different room.
I wished I was passed out before the movie started so I’d have no memory of it.