If John Kramer Shot Craps in Hell

Main Cast: Elias Koteas and Emily Hampshire

Director: Dominic James

The release of 2010’s Saw 3D, the final film in that long-running series, left a void in the let’s play a game subgenre of horror movies. It was a void many films since have tried to fill. There was Hunger in 2009, Nine Dead in 2010, and Vile in 2011. While all of them had their moments of greatness in the field–random people thrown together for reasons unknown, then have to battle their surroundings and/or each other while revealing their darkest secrets in order to entertain their psychopathic host who insists he’s doing all of this for a good cause–all of them fell short of the master John Kramer and his engineering degree.

In 2010, another film was added to the pool, a Canadian production from Domenico Salvaggi (story by Nick Mead) and director Dominic James called DIE. In it, mentally unstable rich boy Jacob (John Pyper-Ferguson, “Burn Notice”) has kidnapped six people who have all been on the verge of or attempted suicide. He’s got them caged up in a dark, damp basement and forces them, one every day, to roll a die and decide the fate of one other “player”. All “tests” are escapable, if the “player” rolls a low enough number. Too high, though, and the game proves to be fatal.

Of the six, we have two main characters in Mark (Elias Koteas, “The Killing”) and Lisa (Emily Hampshire, “Rookie Blue”). Mark is a cop about to lose his job and his freedom after shooting someone while under the influence. He’s ready to die, but his cop instincts won’t allow him to give in until he’s saved as many of the other “contestants” as he can. Lisa is a married mother of a young boy. She also has a gambling problem and, when Jacob found her, had lost two pints of her blood in her hotel bathtub after a particularly vicious losing streak at the blackjack table. For some reason, the writer and director have decided THIS is our focus character and the one most worthy of following on this journey.

Now, I wasn’t expecting greatness from this movie–and to be fair I got more than I thought I would and enjoyed the movie, overall, much more than I had anticipated–but they nearly lost me right in the first five seconds when I saw the opening text:

“In the fall of 2005, six strangers became forever linked throught a series of horrifying events that the police later referred to as ‘The Trials.’”

Yes, it actually read “throught”. I screencapped and Tweeted it for posterity. And I was so very very close right then to turning off the movie and watching something else.

But I stuck with it, and, in the end, liked the movie, for the most part. The performances were decent, especially Koteas who I almost always enjoy, and Hampsire whom I’ve never heard of before and kept seeing her as Holly Marie Combs, then reminding myself that wasn’t who she was. The biggest letdown here, for me, was Pyper-Ferguson who just seemed to be aping that John Kramer on prozac personality and it came across as too derivative and not as interesting as I’d hoped.

The “trials”, as they are conceived, were interesting and designed to fit the “player”, not the victim. So Mark, who was going to shoot himself in the head, is made to load one bullet into a gun, then roll the die to determine how many shots he must take at the head of Robert, the first victim. Lisa is made to roll the die to determine how many liters of blood are going to be drained from Diane, while Diane–who tried to drown herself–is made to roll to determine how many seconds Zach has to stay underwater. DIE was a creative and interesting movie, I’m not denying that at all.

I just wish the villain hadn’t been so overdone, and that the film hadn’t opened with that glaring typo, which totally threw me out of the movie immediately.

Of the crop of Saw-wannabes, DIE is up there with the good ones, but it’s not the best of the lot I’ve seen. It’s worth a viewing, definitely, if you like these kinds of stories, and it has a more fully developed backstory than most with more potential for continuing in the franchise. I would definitely watch a sequel if it cropped up, but I’m not going to hope for one.

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