Die (Dominic James, 2010)
There is an oddly compelling, at least to me, subgenre of torture porn that’s come to the surface over the last couple of years where instead of the psychotic killer preying on the hapless victims a la Hostel or Turistas or Train or…, instead, the psychotic killer-who’s-not-actually-a-killer throws the hapless victims into a room and forces them to do terrible things to each other in exchange for the possibility of winning their freedom. There have been some pretty solid movies along these lines (Nine Dead comes to mind), and of course there have been some awful ones (Vile, The Killing Room, etc.). Die, I am very pleased to report, is of the former camp. We start off with the very title of the film, which is a double-entendre; you can already tell, before you even open the case, that you’re dealing with a writer and director (screenwriter Domenico Salvaggio has been James’ partner in crime since their first short together, “Lotto 6/66”) who are head and shoulders above a dozen Darren Lynn Bousmans or Marcus Dunstans. Then we get—hey!—moral dilemmas that are actually interesting, rather than a “script” that exists as nothing more than an excuse to showcase Rube Goldberg-esque ways of killing people. (In fact, the methods of death in this movie are quite mundane, which seems to have annoyed some folks on the IMDB boards. I thought that was a strength, rather than a weakness, since it kept the viewer’s focus exactly where it should be.)
Plot: while I think this was supposed to be a spoiler, it’s mentioned in the plot synopses at Netlifx and on the jacket copy. Six people, all of whom were considering, or were in the process of committing, suicide all wake up in some sort of large, dimly-lit room in hastily-constructed plexiglass cages. We have Lisa (Cosmopolis‘ Emily Hampshire), a compulsive blackjack player who’s just lost her life savings. Zach (The Recruit‘s Karl Pruner), a psychiatrist. Robert (Transgression‘s Fabio Fulco), a philanthropist and motivational speaker who focuses on helping the clinically depressed. Melody (The Master‘s Katie Boland), a heroin-addicted teen. Diane (Sigma‘s Patricia McKenzie), a nurse. And, most importantly—though no one in the room, including the person who brought them there, knows it—Mark (Crash‘s Elias Koteas), a cop who’s seen, and done, far too much to want to continue living. He’s important because his disappearance causes his partner, Sofia Valenti (Casino Royale‘s Caterina Murino), to start connecting the dots that lead to Jacob Odessa (Drive‘s John Pyper-Ferguson), the man who kidnapped them—and who now pits them against one another, forcing each to use their own method of attempting suicide on one of the others, with the possible lethality determined by the roll of a die. As an example, in the first encounter, Mark, who being a cop was planning on swallowing his revolver, is the game’s aggressor, and Robert is the victim. Odessa forces Mark to roll the die; the number that comes up is the number of chambers which will contain bullets in the modified Russian roulette Jacob has them playing. If the hammer doesn’t fall on a chamber with a bullet, Robert walks away. If it does, he dies.
The moral underpinning of the story, obviously, is right out of the first Saw film; Jigsaw’s aim, too, in the early days was to take those who felt their lives had no meaning and teach them the value of living. Such is also Odessa’s goal, and his means of achieving it are more mundane, less showy. As I said before, to me, that makes for a stronger work; the audience spends less time waiting for “he doesn’t want us to saw through the chain, he wants us to saw through our ankles!”, and forgetting that the rest of the movie is actually way more interesting. (After all, if they hadn’t forgotten that, all seven Saw-franchise movies might actually be well-plotted, well-acted, tense mysteries, rather than movies two through seven going down in infamy as the franchise that started the torture porn movement.) Add to this that James found himself with an exceptional cast, and while he doesn’t coax career-best performances out of any of the folks here, the cast handles themselves as well as the cast of Nine Dead did, and that’s good enough for yours truly. As many have pointed out, yes, the end of the film is kind of ridiculous and does drag the entire thing down a notch, and there are some really, really weird oversights in the script that I can’t help but wonder why no one caught. Still, I was willing to overlook those problems, given how much better this movie is overall than pieces of crap like Vile that tried to tread the same ground and made a dog’s dinner of it. I had a great deal of fun with this movie, and I think if you’re willing to forgive it some of its odder peccadilloes, you will as well. *** ½