Vacationing couple Neil and Christine wake up from a significant night’s boozing on a distant Thai island to find their passports missing and their recollections mainly blank. No clarity is forthcoming when Neil checks his phone’s photographs from the evening ahead of, only to find an prolonged movie in which he has tough intercourse with his spouse, just before strangling her to dying and burying her in a shallow grave. The premise of “Death of Me” is the form of tidily absurd “whoa, wut” pitch that Charlie Kaufman’s fictitious hack brother Donald might have dreamed up in “Adaptation”: It sounds at once stupidly intriguing and intriguingly silly, but it has our awareness either way. As managed by someday “Saw”-meister Darren Lynn Bousman, this attractively mounted B-horror maintains that lurid, grabby excellent even as its presently sketchy tips devolve into dubious, incoherent exotica.
For followers of Bousman’s work, “Death of Me” now arrives as a insignificant amuse-bouche in advance of his significantly-expected return to the “Saw” franchise with next year’s delayed “Spiral”: It’s a smaller-scale style exercise that proves his facility with fast, old-school scares and additional insidiously sustained atmospherics. Considerably less proficient is the screenplay by novice writer David Tish and indie duo Ari Margolis and James Morley III (“Black Days”), which squanders a restricted “what just happened” set up on a mounting muddle of cod-non secular lore, dependent all too quickly for rigidity on the generalized otherness of a rural Thai group. While Saban Films is giving the film a theatrical run, “Death of Me” is primed to discover its audience on VOD.
Soon after a couple of misbegotten tries (like January’s “Fantasy Island”), “Death of Me” companies up the scream-queen credentials of Vietnamese-American motion star Maggie Q, whose nervy, physically intrepid existence is at factors the a person matter standing between the film and outright risibility. As her character, Christine, vomits up mud and endures grisly beatings and mutilations, the extremities of the storytelling are more durable on her than on Neil (Luke Hemsworth), who’s tasked with wanting persistently and understandably baffled that the spouse he seemingly murdered is quite much alive, and equally perplexed herself.
Stranded on the island as an imminent storm brews, the couple makes an attempt to untangle the parallel truth they entered the night in advance of. A heady Buddhist hallucinogenic, served to them by enigmatic bar employee Madee (Kat Ingkarat), may well have anything to do with it ditto the sinister tribal talisman that keeps showing up all-around Christine’s neck, which none of the locals are willing to just take off her arms. Their chipper Airbnb hostess, American expat Samantha (Alex Essoe), offers sympathy and notional aid — yet also locations instead additional stock in the sketchy village doctor (Chatchawan Kamonsakpitak) than he looks to should have. In the meantime, all people on the island seems to be gearing up for an extravagant neighborhood competition involving death’s-head masks and baleful parading — no facts of which formerly emerged in vacation journalist Neil’s sufficient study on the area’s customs. Dr. Moreau’s island had much less purple flags, place it that way.
Bousman and the writers so trade in the sort of witchy mumbo-jumbo that was a staple of 1940s horror, in which a world of uninvestigated indigenous custom was solid in a threatening light-weight. But the film’s application of these freak-out ways to the locale of Thailand — with ethnography composed of equivalent components neighborhood colour and screenwriter’s creation — can’t support but feel tacky, even as the script allows itself off the hook by portraying a fictitious island that appears isolated in its strange perception system.
Working on spot in Thailand, cinematographer Jose David Montero and generation designer Sutham Viravandaj use native landscape and architecture to the film’s considerable ambient benefit. Nonetheless there is an unavoidably touristic experience to the film’s terror as well: a dependence on easy foreignness to rattle the audience, and not in ways (as in last year’s remarkably equivalent “Midsommar”) that invite the viewer to take into account their bias. (Christine’s multicultural identity, furthermore, is glancingly addressed, but not as thoughtfully as it may possibly be.)
Within those dated limits, then, Bousman’s film pulls off some effectively nasty jolts and jabs: its feverish, whispery, at some point shrieking island-of-misplaced-souls claustrophobia may be rooted in cliché, but cliché normally takes root for a cause. “I am so ill of this cryptic bulls—,” Christine wails midway by proceedings, and considerably less style-immersed audiences could be inclined to agree with her. “Cryptic bulls—” is what “Death of Me” does most capably — with some verve, even — but it could established its sights greater.