Review: Dominic James' Die, starring Elias Koteas (Fantasia 2011)

Dominic James' Die, starring Elias Koteas (Fantasia 2011)
3 10

PLOT: A group of strangers are held captive by a mysterious man (John Oyper-Ferguson), who forces them to participate in deadly games of chance- with their fates being decided by the throw of a die.

REVIEW: The Canadian made DIE is English feature debut of director Dominic James, who previously directed the well-received French-Quebec film, ANGLE MORT. While I haven’t seen the French film, I have to presume it was a more original piece of work than DIE, as this is shamelessly derivative of other, better films. Obviously, the producers involved in DIE, are hoping that the film will play well outside Canada, but having caught the film at the Fantasia Film Festival, I doubt that will happen.

One thing DIE does have is a solid opening scene, featuring a cameo by the great Steven McHattie (PONTYPOOL), and a unique introduction to the central premise of the film, which centers on deadly games of chance, with the results being decided by rolling a single die. For instance, let’s say the player is given a gun, with six bullets. Rolling a three will mean three bullets are placed in the gun, giving the player a 50/50 chance of surviving.

Sound a bit like SAW? It should, as DIE is HEAVILY influenced by that film, with the baddie, Jacob, as played by the soft-voiced Ferguson, being as close of a Jigsaw ripoff you’re likely to get away with without being sued. Like SAW, Jacob explains that he’s “rescuing” his victims, and giving them a chance at being reborn. Heck, we even get a parallel storyline where a cop (former Bond-girl Caterina Murino) is trying to piece together the case- just like we did in most of the SAW films. While SAW was limited to two victims at a time, we get six in DIE. There’s an underage prostitute, a burn-out nurse, a manic depressive doctor, a gambler, a twisted businessman, and a cop.

All six victims are just about to kill themselves when taken by Jacob, so I guess the idea of him allowing them to be “reborn” is maybe a little easier to swallow than it was in the SAW series. However, this is the only area where DIE improves on SAW, as it possesses neither the style of the first SAW, or the grand guignol outrageousness of the later entries in the series.

Rather, it goes for a rather pretentiously earnest approach, as if director James is telling us, “I’m making a serious film here, and NOT a horror movie”. That would be fine, if the storyline and characterizations were enough to draw viewers in, but each story is painfully predictable. Say what you will about the SAW films, but at least they knew what they were- which were passable B-films at best. Despite the cast being chockfull of Canadian talent (including “it-girl Emily Hampshire, who shows up in every big Canadian film these days), the only character here I actually cared about was the one played by Elias Koteas. While his burnt-out cop storyline is as clichéd as the others, Koteas is such a damn good actor that he sells it. I’m amazed that Koteas isn’t used more, as the guy is truly talented.

I really hate panning an indie like DIE, especially when it happens to be Canadian, as I’ve long held out hope for a genre revival in my native land (we came close to one around the time CUBE came out). Alas, DIE is about as ho-hum and by the numbers are you can get. Too bad.



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