Death's Roulette (2023) poster

Death’s Roulette (2023)


(Uno Parir Mourir)

Mexico. 2023.


Director – Manolo Cardona, Screenplay – Gavo Amiel, Manolo Cardona & Julieta Steinberg, Based on the Original Script La Terminal by Frank Ariza, Producers – Julye Cuartas Varela & Marana Zubillaga, Photography – Kike Carrion, Music – Alfonso G. Aguilar, Visual Effects – Feroz Carmesi (Supervisor – Ivan Emilio Sanchez Alvarez), Production Design – Joaquin de la Riva. Production Company – Paramount+/11:11 Films & TV.


Juan Carlos Remolina (Esteban Fernandez Avila), Maribel Verdu (Marta Carrillo Sepulveda), Dagoberto Gama (Armando Grimoldi Paez), Adriana Paz (Teresa Torres), Carla Adell (Lupe Avila), Manolo Cardona (Lieutenant Simon Acosta Cruz/Pablo Vega), Fernando Becceril (Jose)


A group of people come around in a large house, having been abducted. The group include successful businessman Esteban Avila, his wife Marta and daughter Lupe; the surgeon Armando Grimoldi Paez; the air hostess Teresa Torres; the police detective Simon Acosta Cruz; and the aging Jose. A voice tells them the rules – that they have an hour during which they must choose someone among the group to die and that the person must agree to do so but cannot volunteer themselves. If they fail to choose, everybody will be killed. As the group progress through the rooms of the house, the voice pushes for them to solve a series of cryptic clues and find the truth about Pablo Vega. As they do so, it becomes apparent that each of them holds guilty secrets that tie back to Pablo’s mother who was locked in an asylum and raped, giving birth to him, and how she was killed due to their negligence.

A few years ago, Saw (2004), and to a lesser extent its sequels, popularised a type of locked room mystery where those imprisoned were forced to confront their sins and make brutally tough choices. There were copies of this for several years afterwards with the likes of Dread (2009), Die (2010) and Vile (2011), among others – see my essay Imprisonment Thrillers for a more detailed listing. The genre started to die away around the mid-2010s but the Mexican-made Death’s Roulette is a new take on the theme, although without pushing things to Torture Porn extremes.

Death’s Roulette gives us a variation on the basics of many of these Saw copies – a diverse group taken from various walks of life; all of them having guilty secrets that tie back to the mysterious organiser of the game; and they being forced to make brutal life and death decisions – in this case having to choose one among the group to kill. The film also winds in something of the escape room idea that has started to make its way onto film from around 2017 onwards with the group having to solve an acrostic in one room and another puzzle made up of collages of photos.

This is something that director Manola Cardona and the cast deliver with a reasonable tension. The plot adeptly corkscrews through a number of twists and turns that pull the carpet out from under us and what we think about the characters. The debate about the essential dilemma they are presented with gets bared and brutal, none the more so than the scenes where the wealthy couple (Juan Carlos Remolina and Maribel Verdu) try to persuade the air hostess (Adriana Paz) that if she elects to be the one who dies that they will provide more of a future for her son than she could ever hope to do so on her own.

Juan Carlos Remolina, Carla Adell, Dagoberto Gama, Adriana Paz and Manolo Cardona in Death's Roulette (2023)
The imprisoned – (l to r) Juan Carlos Remolina, Carla Adell, Dagoberto Gama, Adriana Paz and Manolo Cardona (also the film’s director)

These Saw copies always tread a morally dubious line. In all of them, we have flawed characters who have usually committed terrible, sometimes unforgiveable sins. Death’s Roulette is no different. By the very fact that the prisoners are pitted against a fiendish mastermind who is even worse than they, these films force us into the position of granting many of the characters a forgiveness as we root for them to survive. This often blurs a line where the mastermind sometimes seems to be enacting a morality that is clearly upheld by the creative talent behind the show – think of the vehemence enacted against the medical insurance industry in Saw VI (2009). Death’s Roulette is perhaps notable in that the killer’s point-of-view becomes more extreme as the story goes on before reaching an ending where our morality has shifted to regard the people being eliminated as worthy of utter contempt.

Death’s Roulette was a feature-length directorial debut for Manolo Cardona, a Colombian-born actor who gained fame in Columbian and Mexican film and tv. He had previously directed one of the segments of Rubirosa (2018). Cardona is also the film’s top-billed actor where he plays the part of the unveiled face of the mysterious Pablo Vega.

Trailer here

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