Vacationing few Neil and Christine wake up from a large night’s boozing on a distant Thai island to uncover their passports missing and their reminiscences largely blank. No clarity is forthcoming when Neil checks his phone’s images from the evening before, only to come across an extended video in which he has tough sexual 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 kind of tidily absurd “whoa, wut” pitch that Charlie Kaufman’s fictitious hack brother Donald may possibly have dreamed up in “Adaptation”: It seems at once stupidly intriguing and intriguingly stupid, but it has our attention both way. As managed by someday “Saw”-meister Darren Lynn Bousman, this attractively mounted B-horror maintains that lurid, grabby top quality even as its by now sketchy tips devolve into dubious, incoherent exotica.
For followers of Bousman’s get the job done, “Death of Me” now comes as a slight amuse-bouche ahead of his substantially-predicted return to the “Saw” franchise with following year’s delayed “Spiral”: It’s a small-scale genre training that proves his facility with quick, aged-faculty scares and much more insidiously sustained atmospherics. Much less proficient is the screenplay by newbie writer David Tish and indie duo Ari Margolis and James Morley III (“Black Days”), which squanders a tight “what just happened” set up on a mounting muddle of cod-spiritual lore, depending all way too quickly for pressure on the generalized otherness of a rural Thai community. Even though Saban Movies is providing the film a theatrical run, “Death of Me” is primed to come across its viewers on VOD.
Following a handful of misbegotten makes an attempt (like January’s “Fantasy Island”), “Death of Me” firms up the scream-queen qualifications of Vietnamese-American motion star Maggie Q, whose nervy, physically intrepid existence is at details the a single issue standing among 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 seeking persistently and understandably baffled that the wife he seemingly murdered is incredibly much alive, and equally bewildered herself.
Stranded on the island as an imminent storm brews, the few makes an attempt to untangle the parallel fact they entered the night just before. A heady Buddhist hallucinogenic, served to them by enigmatic bar employee Madee (Kat Ingkarat), may possibly have some thing to do with it ditto the sinister tribal talisman that keeps appearing all-around Christine’s neck, which none of the locals are willing to get off her arms. Their chipper Airbnb hostess, American expat Samantha (Alex Essoe), provides sympathy and notional assistance — still also locations instead more stock in the sketchy village medical professional (Chatchawan Kamonsakpitak) than he looks to have earned. In the meantime, everyone on the island appears to be gearing up for an extravagant neighborhood pageant involving death’s-head masks and baleful parading — no particulars of which earlier emerged in journey journalist Neil’s sufficient investigate on the area’s customs. Dr. Moreau’s island had 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 planet of uninvestigated indigenous custom was cast in a threatening light-weight. Yet the film’s application of these kinds of freak-out tactics to the locale of Thailand — with ethnography composed of equivalent parts local shade and screenwriter’s invention — just can’t enable but feel tacky, even as the script lets itself off the hook by portraying a fictitious island that appears isolated in its weird belief procedure.
Functioning on location in Thailand, cinematographer Jose David Montero and generation designer Sutham Viravandaj use indigenous landscape and architecture to the film’s substantial ambient gain. Still there’s an unavoidably touristic sense to the film’s terror as well: a dependence on basic foreignness to rattle the audience, and not in techniques (as in previous year’s surprisingly comparable “Midsommar”) that invite the viewer to look at their bias. (Christine’s multicultural id, moreover, is glancingly dealt with, but not as thoughtfully as it may well be.)
Within just these dated restrictions, then, Bousman’s film pulls off some efficiently nasty jolts and jabs: its feverish, whispery, finally shrieking island-of-missing-souls claustrophobia may be rooted in cliché, but cliché takes root for a rationale. “I am so ill of this cryptic bulls—,” Christine wails halfway via proceedings, and fewer genre-immersed audiences may 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.