Monday, December 6, 2021

Corn Rigs & Coconuts

Because Neil LaBute is a laughable misogynist who directs films with the spiritual energy of an angry teenage boy lashing out on the internet after being rejected by his crush because he had Cheetos stuck in his teeth, it's safe to say we've experienced the worst possible remake of The Wicker Man that can ever be humanely possibly. So go ahead, Death of Me! Do your worst.

Quick Plot: Americans Christine and Neil wake up with a massive hangover on their last day on a remote island off Thailand's mainland. With barely any memory from the heavy partying the night before, they rush their way to their boat only to discover their passports are missing. 

Looks like they're stuck in tropical paradise, right in time for a massive typhoon. The locals laugh off the weather reports because, as the brochures proudly proclaim, there hasn't been a storm in over 200 years. The couple decides to dig into their phones and cameras to help piece together their missing memories only to discover a haunting video that puts a whole new perspective on their lost evening.

Not surprisingly, Neil and Christine drank HARD, and not just fruity mai tais. Video shows them accepting a uniquely strong drink from a flirty waitress, who followed up the shots with a mysterious necklace for Christine. After, they stumbled home to their airbnb and had aggressive sex, which ended when Neil choked Christine to death and buried her in a shallow grave.

What a great concept, right?! It's haunting and fresh, and yet, for reasons I don't understand, Death of Me decides to stop it in its tracks and proceed to just follow every step of the much better The Wicker Man. Don't worry, it is most certainly aware of what it's doing, so much so that Neil stops to say, "hey, what happened in The Wicker Man?" 

I can't decide if I should commend Death of Me for saluting the elephant in the room or chide it for reminding the audience how much better a movie we could be watching.

Directed by the inconsistent but genre-loving Darren Lynn Bousman, Death of Me is an extremely frustrating, possibly racist, occasionally neat, and ultimately unsatisfying tale. From the beautiful Thai setting and unusual setup to its decent cast and score, It's positively dripping in potential. This film should work!

It does not.

Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth are adequate, though the screenplay (credited to three writers: Ari Margolis, James Morley III, and David Tish) never offers a single detail about their lives to make them interesting and not, you know, just very attractive. The magical island is described as being small, yet Bousman makes no effort to give us any sense of its geography. Also, it's not necessarily my place to say it, but the more I think about Death of Me's depiction of its villains, the more horrifically problematic it seems. Thailand is known as the land of smiles, and Bousman's camera turns that into something sinister in a way that just doesn't feel right (especially coming from what seems like a fairly American, Caucasian creative team). 

The thrust of Death of Me's story is that human sacrifice staves off tsunamis. The very idea is cringe-worthy, and the film never really seems to know whose side it's ultimately on. It wants us to see the islanders as monsters, but half of that comes from the simple fact that they're speaking a language most of the intended audience doesn't understand. Are we supposed to be afraid of a shot like this?

Yes, The Wicker Man's morals and faith are also muddy, but turning Gaelic culture into folk horror feels a bit less icky in 2021 than making Thai customs into something of terror. It also doesn't help that I watch Death of Me thinking about a much better outsiders-in-Southeast-Asia film (Fabrice Du Weiz's Vinyan) and how that was effectively used:

Made for more money than your average under-the-radar horror film (you can tell that just be seeing this streaming on Netflix as opposed to Amazon Prime), Death of Me is not a waste of time. It has ideas, and it's pretty enough to look at. But if you're the type of genre fan who can't let some very bad choices go, it will frustrate you to no end.

Still: nice beach. 

High Points

I'll never complain about seeing Starry Eyes' Alex Essoe show up in a genre film, and while I wish she had more to do here, she still helps lend a great sense of distrust to the film as the airbnb host with secrets

Low Points

You know how on America's Next Top Model, Tyra Banks would often chide a beautiful young woman who didn't know how to work in front of the camera with the line, "the camera loves you, but you don't love the camera?" Well, that's somewhat true of how this film uses Thailand. Death of Me is infinitely more interesting because of its location, but I don't know that Bousman or his team pull anything exciting out of it

Lessons Learned

The Wicker Man might have had a different ending had Howie had a cell phone, but considering how poor service is anytime a genre movie is set away from a character's home, I'd say we'd have the same movie...only with a few scenes of "no bars!"

A tourist should never be confused for a celebrated guest

Maybe don't shoot the mystery gasoline-flavored alcohol that locals won't drink? JUST A THOUGHT


As with Abattoir, I appreciate Bousman's commitment to putting new spins on horror. And as with Abattoir, I find myself wildly disappointed in the end result. 

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