Death of Me (2020): Movie Review
Bland and directionless, this movie tries and fails to be an interesting take on the Wicker Man
It’s a bold move to reference The Wicker Man in a film so clearly inspired by it. Unfortunately, it appears to be the only bold decision Death of Me makes during its 94 minute run.
Death of Me is a 2020 film directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (best known for his work on the Saw series) and starring Maggie Q as Christine, an American woman on vacation with her husband, Neil (Luke Hemsworth), on a small, fairly unremarkable island in Thailand. Things start badly for the pair – they wake up dirty and covered in blood, run late for their plane out of the country, and misplace their passports, effectively stranding them on the island for the next day while the threat of a major storm looms over the island – the first storm in 200 years, in fact. However, things take a turn for the worse when they find camera footage of their escapades the previous night: The two watch themselves drink a strange cocktail before witnessing Neil snapping Christine’s neck and burying her.
It’s an intriguing hook, to watch your own snuff film as the person who murders you sits beside you, but the film is eager to do nothing with it. Instead, the couple run from place to place, encounter strange things, and start at square one. Rinse, repeat. Bousman sets a frenetic tone that feels exhausting after the first 20 minutes. While WTF moments abound, there is very little mystery to the story – the drink the couple imbibed before the start of the film was obviously something bad; whatever Neil did in their personal snuff film was obviously due to some magical influence; the townsfolk are obviously shifty and manipulating Christine and Neil. Honestly, the film might work better as a short film playing on a simple conceit rather than a full-length movie. While Death of Me pulls its concepts from psychological horror such as The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby, it seems to balk at the idea of pacing itself and lending mystery to the mounting terror.
We never get to know much at all about either lead. We assume Neil and Christine have a good marriage, though we don’t get any insight into their relationship, let alone the characters themselves. Rather than feel for their plight as I do for Neil Howie and Rosemary, I feel stuck watching two people I barely care about run around aimlessly as the clock ticks down.
The film is also steeped in xenophobia – the camera leers at the island inhabitants, who are made to look and feel completely alien to the American travelers who spend a good portion of the film frustratingly trying to communicate with the Thai locals. Neil, who apparently runs a travel vlog channel, takes voyeuristic videos of the islanders celebrating, without really knowing or caring about what exactly they are celebrating. Combine that with the heavily teased human sacrifice, and it’s clear that you are supposed to view these people as a sort of primitive savage. In fact, the only person shown in a sympathetic light apart from the vacationing couple is a young mother named Samantha, a white woman who recently moved to the island to treat an illness with the help of “island magic.” And yes, “island magic” is said seriously and ominously several times throughout the film, because Death of Me is that kind of movie. It feels gross to watch, and even grosser to know that it was filmed in today’s time.
Even disregarding the overt and appalling xenophobia, the film is lifeless onscreen, and seems to only understand horror as a vaguely connected string of odd and disturbing events with no catharsis in sight. Definitely one to skip.