There are so many attempts to frighten, shock and/or disgust the audience in Death of Me that it’s quite the achievement on the part of director Darren Lynn Bousman that precisely none of those attempts work. This isn’t just a case of poorly executed horror, though. This is a movie defined almost exclusively by its abject cruelty, its apparent disdain for women and bartering in their physical and emotional suffering and its comically infuriating treatment of the non-white natives of the remote South Pacific island that is the film’s setting. These are serious allegations to level against the movie, but then you get to the poor execution of the thing. Not only is this an extraordinarily discomforting movie, espousing deeply concerning politics; it’s also completely incompetent.

At first, the movie is simply and amusingly incompetent. The story follows Christine (Maggie Q) and Neil (Luke Hemsworth), a couple who have arrived in the South Pacific for a little sun, sea and, on Neil’s part, photography of the local customs for a piece he’s writing in his capacity as a photojournalist. The trip goes almost immediately awry, though, when they both black out, wake up in their hotel room caked with dirt and are unable to remember what happened the night before. Neil’s camera provides some clues, though – a roll of photos, only some of which they remember taking, and a two-and-a-half hour video that depicts Neil forcing himself on a drunken Christine, snapping her neck, and burying her in a shallow grave. Obviously, one big question is raised by this development.

If Christine’s neck has been snapped – which, for those who might be a little fuzzy on anatomy, means that she’s dead – how is she sitting here, watching the video and talking about it? Screenwriters Ari Margolis, James Morley III and David Tish barrel past these concerns by never actually answering that question, although they do wind up raising a whole slew of others when the action turns toward the couple’s bewildered and bewildering investigation into the insanity. There’s Madee (Kat Ingkarat), the waitress who gave Christine a necklace of vague importance, and Samantha (Alex Essoe, reciting dead-end dialogue with all the urgency of a sleepwalker), a young mother who was once a tourist herself with no prospects and failing health.

Then there are the villagers themselves, who are treated by the screenwriters and Bousman as exactly the kind of demented, potentially homicidal/cannibalistic/ritualistic threats of an unknown or uncharted variety as one might anticipate from a story like this one. There isn’t a truly human character among the lot as the proceedings twist toward an ancient tribal ritual. The details of the ritual matter less than the fact that Christine, as played with unstable intensity by Q, must endure a whole lot of torment to get to that point. Hemsworth, meanwhile, appears uncertain about why he is here shooting this movie right now, which is clear in his wooden and unconvincing line-readings (though, to be fair, the majority of the dialogue is head-slapping stuff).

Bousman’s chief aim seems to be treating his audience to a lot of graphic violence and a fair amount of gore, such as a close-up view of a self-disembowelment and, later, of an eye socket being sewn shut. It’s meant to be shocking and disgusting, but by the point we reach the stuff with the eye socket, we’ve been pretty beaten down by the worrisome view of humanity on display. It takes a lot of nerve to make the film’s plot incident a private movie session in which a wife watches her husband assault, kill and bury her. Death of Me has precisely that amount of nerve. It takes courage to find a way to make that scenario not exploitative horror junk. The movie has no such courage nor even a thought in its head. This is a bad horror exercise, but it’s even worse as a sympathetic experiment.

A bad horror exercise, but it’s even worse as a sympathetic experiment.
10 %
Abject Cruelty1
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