Netflix’s latest supernatural horror film, “Choose or Die,” is a weird mix, with an interesting premise about a video game that kills people, but one that only deteriorates with time to an ultimately disappointing and laughable end. It tells the story of an aspiring programmer and college student, Kayla, as she stumbles upon a 1980s text-based video game with unclaimed prize money and starts playing it to try her luck. Other than the premise and the subsequent disappointment, there is nothing noteworthy in “Choose or Die,” and it is a forgettable film for even those specifically interested in the technology horror genre.
‘Choose or Die’ Plot Summary
The film opens at the house of Hal, a wealthy middle-aged man with an avid interest in collecting old-school video games and other pop-culture memorabilia from the 80s and 90s. One night, he boots up an old cassette he had recently found of a 1984 game named “Curs>r” (pronounced as “cursor”). The game seems to be a text-based roleplaying adventure at first, as it gives Hal the option to either seize or ignore a “precious chalice.” Hal disinterestedly picks up his bottle of beer and takes a swig, and sees the game automatically choose the option to seize.
A few more interactions of such manner follow, and Hal realizes that the game is somehow linked to reality. The menacing green text then suddenly asks him to choose between “his tongue” or “her ears” and forces Hal to make a choice. The man is then horrified to find that his wife has cut out their son’s tongue, not by her choice, though, as if his choice forced her to do it. The game then continues to torture Hal, making him take decisions and always claiming to either choose or die.
Three months later, a young college student, Kayla, struggles to keep up with living expenses with an unwell mother and works as a cleaner at a company called Kismet. She is friends with Isaac, a young adult boy overly dedicated to everything related to computers, who is also romantically interested in her. Amidst the rubble of old hardware from a house clearing, Kayla finds an old cassette of the same game, “Curs>r,” with a mention of a $125,000 prize on its cover. Calling up the number given, the two find out that the money remains unclaimed, and decide to have a try for themselves.
That night, at two, Kayla boots up the game at a local café, despite Isaac not showing up. She, too, realizes that the game is in control of reality and is then made to choose between making the waitress continuously shatter glasses and stopping and cleaning up. She tries shutting her laptop down but is swiftly transferred to some other-worldly realm with her brother, who had drowned and died years ago, and is forced to open it up again. She then chooses to make the waitress clean up, and stands there being terrorized as the waitress’ body forces herself to shove the pieces of broken glass into her mouth and ultimately bleeds herself to death. The game screen on Kayla’s laptop reads that she has successfully completed the first stage and that the game will continue at the same time the next day.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Was The Reason Behind The Existence Of ‘Curs>r’?
Kayla wakes up the next morning and realizes that none of it was a nightmare, as the police want to talk to her about the incident, which they believe to be a suicide. The young woman has a difficult family life as her mother has turned to drugs, trying to forget the death of her young son Ricki, and she is incessantly disturbed by a local drug peddler, Lance, who often suggests she turn to prostitution. Kayla destroys the game’s cassette and then goes to Isaac and tells him everything, but he is not very convinced by any of it.
That night, as she sweeps an empty hall at her work, the game once again boots up at two, this time on an office computer. A two-dimensional puzzle-like interface crops up on the screen, with three rooms and a human figure, and a big rat figure inside.
At the same time, Kayla receives a call from her mother, who claims that there is a huge aggressive rat inside their apartment trying to attack her. The daughter realizes that she is the one controlling the rat via the game screen, and she is forced to ask her mother to jump out of the window in order to save her from the monster. As her mother is hospitalized with numerous injuries, Kayla goes over to their apartment and finds it wrecked apart, realizing that there had actually been some monster inside. She returns to Isaac with much more desperation, and the two try to get into the codes of the program. They find a strange language of symbols inside the code, but notice the absence of any cursor, that is a necessity for them to get deeper into the coding.
The game again boots up and, this time, forces the friends into choosing between two doors, which lead them to the foggy, other-worldly realm that Kayla had seen before. Here she is given the choice of saving either Isaac or Ricki, and she intelligently chooses her friend over her already-dead brother. After surviving the level, she tells Isaac how she always blames herself for the careless demise of her younger brother.
The next morning, Isaac hacks into the phone number on the game’s box and locates the storage facility from where the recorded calls are answered. The two drive to the place and start to explore the decrepit warehouse to find their way into an abandoned room where the game was made. They find a videotape that shows the creator, Beck, explaining that he had come across the strange symbols somewhere and had been cursed by them until he implemented those very symbols into the code of a text-based horror-survival game he was making. In the video footage of the first test run of the game, a man is seen forced to choose (or die) between eating a computer and eating his own arm. He mockingly chooses the second option, but his body is taken over by some unexplained force, just like the waitress’, and he is forced to eat his own flesh.
Meanwhile, Beck had cut open a deep wound on his palm for demonstration, and then showed how his gushing blood and wound disappeared as the man in the test run hurt himself more and more. The game’s creator then explains how the curser benefits as much as the cursed suffers, and then lays out his plan to release this video game with the intention of his own benefit.
The game then boots up once more and separates Isaac and Kayla with a sort of digital wall. Kayla is then forced to choose between rewinding or fast-forwarding, which essentially runs a cassette tape-like thing into and out of Isaac’s mouth, ultimately killing him. The game then congratulates the player for making it to the final round and gives her the coordinates to the place where she has to go to fight the main boss.
It is quite obvious that by now, “Choose or Die” has successfully lost any interest in being anything remotely serious or scary. The concept with which director Toby Meakins begins his work is totally lost in something terribly silly, and almost laughable scenes of a roll of tape killing a character with an action resembling something much more lascivious make it even worse. There is a slight sense of darkness when it comes to the characters and their situations in life, with regards to Kayla, her mother, and Lance, but that ultimately does not go anywhere, or lead anywhere, and its existence has no significance. None of the characters other than Kayla have much depth to them, and Kayla, too, changes and turns into a vengeful player with nothing to lose, very predictably.
‘Choose Or Die’ Ending Explained: Does Kayla Win The $125,000 Prize Money?
Kayla drives to the mentioned location and finds herself entering a big house, one that was shown in the very beginning, the house of Hal. She finds Hal sitting with his wife and son, both of whom have strange-looking plasters and paper cutouts on their faces, possibly in place of missing ears and eyes. The man reveals that the game had forced him to make more copies of it in order to survive, and Kayla understands that he enjoys playing the game and hurting others by now. Soon, the game boots up and asks them to fight each other, but they realize the twist only after a moment—a blow does not hurt the one hit, but rather the one who is hitting. A fight ensues, which gets Hal’s wife and son involved as well. The wife immediately teams up with Kayla and shoots bullets at her in order to kill Hal. The man survives and is about to cut his own throat to finish Kayla when the woman drowns herself in the swimming pool. Hal chokes to death, and all of Kayla’s wounds heal up once she is helped up by the wife.
The game gives Kayla access to the cursor in order to control its code, and she now modifies the program with the symbols she has learned. She uses it to force Lance to kill himself by jabbing syringes into his face. Kayla decides to turn her fortune of being the one cursed, into becoming the curser and benefiting from the misery of others cursed. She soon receives a call from the original creator, Beck, who seems to be the owner of the company where she works, Kismet, and is asked who she wants to make suffer next. Kayla cryptically responds, “Only people who deserve it,” and “Choose or Die,” cuts to black.
There is no mention of the grand prize money at the end, the promise of which had started it all. Other than a short scene where Kayla visits her recovering mother at the hospital, which might suggest that the family is now financially in a better position, there is nothing directly to suggest that the woman ultimately won the money. Instead, she is much more mesmerized by her newfound powers, and decides to concentrate on that instead.
The end scene of “Choose or Die,” with Kayla and Beck conversing over the phone, might hint at a possible sequel to further explore the story of Kayla, but viewers will probably pray not. “Choose or Die” ultimately turns out to be as superficial and immature as its word-plays, with “kismet” meaning fate (which has now turned on Beck) and the play on “cursor” and “curser.” “Choose or Die” is definitely not the worst film on Netflix right now, but there is undoubtedly no loss in avoiding it.
“Choose or Die” is a 2022 Drama Horror film directed by Toby Meakins.