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With: Maggie Q, Luke Hemsworth, Alex Essoe, Kat Ingkarat, Kelly B. Jones, Chatchawan Kamonsakpitak
Written by: Ari Margolis, James Morley III, David Tish
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
MPAA Rating: R for violence, gore, sexual content and language
Running Time: 94
Date: 10/02/2020
IMDB

Death of Me (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Prey-cation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many movies have used that intriguing opener with characters that wake up someplace and can't remember how they got there. (It's a weirdly appropriate theme for 2020.)

Darren Lynn Bousman's Death of Me, which opens Friday in select theaters, as well as digital and On Demand, does it one better.

In a hotel room on a small island off the coast of Thailand, Christine (Maggie Q) awakens. She's smeared in mud, the room is wrecked, TV is blaring news about an approaching typhoon, and her husband, travel journalist Neil (Luke Hemsworth, older brother of Chris and Liam), is face down on the floor.

He might be dead, but he's not. He drags himself up, looks around blearily, and says, "what happened last night?"

It's a good question. And director Darren Lynn Bousman (of the second, third, and fourth Saw films, and Repo! The Genetic Opera) spends the next 94 minutes unfolding a horrific mystery along the lines of Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie and Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow. It's surprisingly satisfying and neatly transcends its humble "B" movie origins.

The couple attempt to catch their ferry off the island, but find that their passports and Christine's phone are missing. While disoriented, their luggage is somehow loaded on the ferry and taken away without them.

They head back to the room, where Neil decides to look at his camera to see if there are clues to the couple's missing 12 hours. He finds a very long video.

The video begins in a bar, where a curvy server brings mysterious local drinks to our drunken couple. Christine is given a strange necklace looping a black trinket. Neither Christine nor Neil can recall any of this.

Later, the camera is dropped on the ground where it continues rolling, capturing Neil having violent sex with Christine, then strangling her, and, finally, digging a hole and burying her!

From there, it's a "finding out what the heck happened" story, as our heroes follow whatever slender clues they can find.

They are hampered by the language barrier, and by the fact that there is now an understandable distrust and awkwardness between the couple, as they both try to get a handle on the insanity that they saw.

With art direction by Noppadon Pheamboonsak, Death of Me makes incredible use of the beautiful island, capturing its flavor and honoring its culture while leaving it mysterious and strange for the Westerners.

A lovely beachside cafe suddenly turns into a nightmare of twisty corridors as Neil races around, searching for a suddenly-missing Christine.

Bousman handles the supporting cast of characters beautifully and authentically. They even include a token American (Alex Essoe, a.k.a. Wendy Torrance from Doctor Sleep), the owner of the Airbnb that our heroes have rented.

A lesser movie would show at least some of the locals acting sneaky and suspicious, rubbing their hands together in evil glee, but here, anyone can be believed — or disbelieved — at any time.

Weird little moments, such as a fisherman clumping a pile of freshly caught fish on Christine's doorstep, a table full of locals all looking up and grinning at the same time, or the seriously creepy masks worn by festivalgoers, contribute as well.

When the plot finally comes together, it happily avoids any cheap "twists" and concentrates instead on strong, lean storytelling. (The screenplay is the brainchild of Ari Margolis, James Morley III, and David Tish, all movie veterans with few prior writing credits among them.)

In 2020, it would be irresponsible to talk about Death of Me without looking at the possibility of cultural appropriation. At least one early review has mercilessly slammed the movie for it, but the truth is somewhere closer to the middle, similar to Ari Aster's Midsommar, from last year.

The Western characters, while sympathetic, are sometimes depicted as "ugly American" invaders, speaking only English (or making mangled attempts to speak Thai), frequently obnoxious or demanding, and somewhat entitled.

Meanwhile, even though the Thai characters are depicted as strangers with "strange" beliefs, Bousman seems to at least try to meet them in the middle; their beliefs may seem strange, but there are good reasons for them. Ultimately, it's difficult to argue that the Westerners come out ahead in this scenario.

Yet, truthfully, Death of Me is no Midsommar. It's not as artistic, nor as ambitious. It's merely a good, solid "B" movie that will surely entertain viewers looking for a few good jolts. In this day and age, that's no small thing.

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