Director – Darren Lynn Bousman, Screenplay – Ari Margolis, James Morley III & David Tish, Producers – Charles Dorfman, Lee Nelson & David Tish, Photography – Jos David Montero, Music – Mark Sayfritz, Visual Effects – Flawless Post. Production Company – Saban Films/Samuel Marshall Productions/13 Films/Dobre Films/Media Finance Capital/Envision Media Arts.
Maggie Q (Christine), Luke Hemsworth (Neil), Alex Essoe (Samantha), Kelly Bronwen Jones (Kanda), Ingkarat (Kat) Jaraswongkosol (Madee), Chatchawan Kamonsakpitak (Dr Anuman), Caledonia Burr (Nathida), Tanapath Si-Ngamrath (Captain), Sahapoom Tortrungsup (Cabbie)
Travel writer Neil and his wife Christine wake up in their AirBNB in Thailand, unable to remember what happened the night before. They race to catch the ferry off the island before a typhoon hits but find they have left their passports behind and are forced to stay. Trying to find out what happened the previous night, they review the video footage on their phones. They are shocked to find that this shows them getting drunk in a local bar and then having sex after during which Neil snaps Christine’s neck and buries her body in the ground. In trying to puzzle out what they saw, they are drawn in by local rituals and Christine starts to experience mysterious visions.
Darren Lynn Bousman came to fame through the Saw franchise. He made the first three sequels Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006) and Saw IV (2007), overseeing the series’ move from a tight locked room thriller to an emphasis on Torture Porn sadism. Subsequent to the Saw films, Bousman went on to make Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008), Mother’s Day (2010), 11-11-11 (2011), The Barrens (2012), The Devil’s Carnival (2012), Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival (2015), Abattoir (2016) and St Agatha (2018), as well as the The Night Billy Raised Hell episode of Tales of Halloween (2015).
I am no fan of Darren Lynn Bousman’s films – outside of their focus on sadistic despatch and shock effect, he displays almost no style. It baffles me as to why he can keep attracting money to make more films and in this case even cast some moderately well-known names – Maggie Q and Luke Hemsworth, Chris’s less famous brother. For Death of Me, Bousman travelled to Thailand to shoot. In the last few years, Thailand has become a destination for low-budget filmmakers including James Cullen Bressick, Jared Cohn and The Asylum, which may well say something about the company that Bousman is operating in these days.
The issue you could raise about some of these Thai-shot films – Bressick’s Pernicious (2014), Ghost House (2017) – is that they view Thai culture and religion in terms of sinister foreign Other. In other words, they are works made from the viewpoint of Westerners in a foreign land where visitors run astray of local customs and beliefs. Local traditions take on a sinister exoticism – here icons, votive candles, masked rituals and the like are seen as something menacing – whereas you suspect if the film was made from the perspective of a local it would emerge akin to more say the casual fantasique elements in one of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films.
When such an approach of treating local customs as sinister Other is combined with Darren Lynn Bousman’s constant profusion of shock effects – figures in face masks, drugged rituals, the locals seen as evasive, blankly smiling or toothless and witless – then the film seems little different from the foreign culture in terms of culinary gross-out effects displayed in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
Death of Me comes with an undeniably interesting hook – a married couple review the video footage of their drunken night before and discover that it shows him strangling her, snapping her neck and then burying the body. It reminds of something of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) where mysterious videotapes turn up, culminating in a murder. Unfortunately, as Darren Lynn Bousman launches into his tedious profusion of shock effects and mysterious happenings, not a lot make sense.
Indeed, about the only two things that go through your head as you watch are “They better come up with a way of letting all of this make sense” and “I really hope this is not going to turn out to be another Deathdream Endings.” In Death of Me’s favour, it does actually come up with an ending where all of the mysterious happenings do make sense. [PLOT SPOILERS]. That said, it is an ending that has been uplifted and borrowed from The Wicker Man (1973).