★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
It’s folk horror island style in the latest from Darren Lynn Bousman. Engaging performances and an unsettling first half make up for treading familiar territory as the film proceeds.
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Death of Me, the latest from Saw films II–IV and St. Agatha director Darren Lynn Bousman, telegraphs the rest of the movie when one of the main characters makes a joke referring to a classic horror film (I’ll not mention it here, so as to avoid spoilers). Death of Me then follows obvious shared beats with that film, mashing those beats up with comedy franchise The Hangover (though Death of Me is not a horror comedy, to be clear) and most other strangers-in-a-strange-land fright flicks. This is unfortunate, because Death of Me starts out with a strong first act that leaves viewers trying to put together the puzzle pieces along with the film’s two protagonists.
Married couple Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil (Luke Hemsworth) have been on a working vacation — Neil is a professional travel photographer — on a small island off the coast of Thailand. As the film begins, they wake up hung over, disheveled, covered in dirt, and with no memory of what happened since they went to dinner the previous evening. The two try to take the twice-daily boat from the island to the mainland to avoid a dangerous hurricane but find that their passports are missing.
Stranded at their room rental, Neil discovers that there is a video on his camera that is more than two hours long, and when the couple plays it back, it shows Neil in an aggressive sex act with Christine on the beach (whether or not it was consensual is discussed between characters) and then killing and burying her — yet here she is, alive and breathing. Their room rental host Samantha (genre-film favorite Alex Essoe) and a tattoo artist (Kelly B. Jones) try to help them sort things out, but a visit to island doctor (Chatchawan Kamonsakpitak) further complicates matters, as does the odd behavior of smiling locals keen on hugging Christine.
Bousman obviously knows his way around fright-fare cinema, and he does another fine job at the helm here. He is, however, saddled with a screenplay that offers loads of promise in the first act but falls into well-worn folk-horror tropes. Two of the cowriters, Ari Margolis and James Morley III, have script credits from several years ago but nothing recent, while David Tish has only this credit, so perhaps the screenplay had been sitting around for a while before receiving a recent polish. The cinematography, score, editing, and other technical aspects are all crisp and the special effects look good. Maggie Q does a super job as a woman trying to make sense of one terrifying, puzzling situation after another, and Hemsworth is solid as her husband who tries to pretend things are as normal or at least easily solvable as possible for as long as he can. Essoe is her usual superb self as the host who goes from suspicious to helpful, and she and Q team up for some terrific work. The sizeable cast of supporting characters is impressive, too.
There is much to recommend with Death of Me, especially the first-half build-up. Once things start to get familiar in the folk horror realm, it becomes easier to see where the film is headed, but the ride remains entertaining nevertheless.
Death of Me, from Saban Films, will be available In Theatres, On Demand and Digital from October 2nd.