Welcome witches and warlocks,
Today I will be reviewing the horror/thriller TELL ME HOW I DIE by director D.J. Viola. Since I do not care for the many different plot synopses I have read, I will cobble together my own description:
A group of college kids undergoing a clinical trial at a remote lab are hunted down by a killer who can see their every move before they take a step. Utilizing the precognitive side effects of the drug treatment they are undergoing, they attempt to evade the murderer’s bloody traps.
The opening scene of this feature immediately grabbed my attention. I was impressed that in one short sequence they were able to hint at quite a few interesting things to come while leaving enough mystery to draw me into the story. Given the strength of the opener, I was excited to see what was in store and hopeful that the rest of the film could be as satisfying as the set up.
I am happy to report that the overall plot did not waste the wonderful high concept nor did it fall apart in the finale. Since any given scene could be something happening in the present or a future premonition there was a disorienting sense of uncertainty pervading every event. This was a clever way to use the premonitions as we find ourselves just as curious as to what is going on as each of the potential victims.
Our doubts as to what is real versus what is fiction are only heightened when the precognitive killer comes into play. This murderer might be one of the cruelest slashers put to film in recent memory as he uses his own abilities to set deadly traps for the other study participants. In a way he is testing each of them to see if they can surprise him and, thus, be considered worthy adversaries. While we do not get to spend much time with him, he proves to be more compelling than the people he is hunting.
The characterization of the victims proves to be this movie’s biggest stumbling block. I say this because we have seen nearly all of these types of roles before; whether it be the star crossed lovers, the drug using comic relief, or the jock who is a bit of a dick nearly all of the main parts are familiar. This may have been done on purpose, this is a slasher feature after all, but at times the choices made by these characters were so unbelievable it almost seemed like they wanted to get killed.
Now even though the characters are thin, each of the leads nailed their respective roles: the comic relief’s delivery of his jokes was spot on, the main couple had good chemistry, and the jock had just enough charm that I never wrote him off completely. It is a testament to the actors that they took such stereotypical characters and made them likable enough to hold my attention. In fact, each of them so successfully added depth to what little they were given that I am eager to see them in other, more nuanced work.
All in all, this slasher feature comes off as more intelligent than most thanks to an extremely well executed conceit. The cruel killer, sense of uncertainty, and the high concept sets this apart from some of the more pedantic slashers. Fans of FLATLINERS (1990) or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) would do well to give this picture a shot.