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DVD Review: Die

Lighter on gore and heavier on atmosphere than its cover box suggests, this brooding crime thriller is actually surprisingly effective.

 

Suffering from a weirdly generic title and totally misfired ad campaign, the moodily low-budget thriller Die is now available on DVD from Entertainment One, featuring woefully underappreciated performers John Pyper-Ferguson and Elias Koteas. Blaringly announcing itself as a gore-infused Saw knock-off, the “unrated director’s cut” of the movie might have just barely cracked a PG-13 had it been submitted to the ratings board – especially tragic, since despite failing to be a glorious carnival of spurting arteries and eyeball explosions, Die is actually a halfway decent thriller, though not exactly a horror flick per se.

After waking up in a murky underground room with no memory of how they arrived, a group of strangers are forced to undergo a series of experiments that dictate whether they will be killed or released based on a literal roll of the dice. The man orchestrating the trials is Jacob Odessa (Pyper-Ferguson), an off-kilter genius metaphysician who has painstakingly selected his contestants based on his perception that they’re burnt out and prepared to give up – a cop awaiting trial for an accidental shooting (Koteas), a gambling addict, a prostitute, a psychotherapist under investigation for lethally overprescribing one of his patients, and a suicidal woman mourning the death of her child.

As Odessa wages psychological warfare on his captives, a police officer investigating the disappearances begins to unravel a network of clues that point to a complex, worldwide syndicate of ideological adherents to Odessa’s apocalyptic brand of spiritual redemption, fearing their machinations may prevent her from uncovering his whereabouts until after it’s already too late.

Die isn’t a flawless masterpiece, but for what it actually aspires to be, it’s taut, nerve-jangling, and emotionally involving enough to deserve a fairer shake than the marketing tack it’s been saddled with is apt to give it. Torture porn demographics might not know what to make of it, and anyone looking for a balls-out sadistic splatterfest will surely be disappointed. It’s pretty clear the creative team responsible for the film were more influenced by reruns of Lost and The X-Files than by any twisted, diabolical slasher movies they may have seen (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), and its style and tone, combined with the law enforcement subplot, makes it feel like an exceptionally involving, slightly paranoia-tinged episode of a gritty police procedural. Koteas and Pyper-Ferguson both give strong performances, especially Pyper-Ferguson, who achieves a perfect balance of delusional mania and wounded, sincere compassion for his traumatized prisoners.

The transfer looks a little murkier than it’s probably supposed to be in places, and the disc is devoid of special features. Misleading cover design has already been amply noted. Whether it deserves a slot in the annals of the horror genre is questionable, but as a low-budget crime thriller, it’s at least respectable.