DEATH COUNT *** USA 2022 Dir: Michael Su. 82 mins
High school Science teacher, Rachel (Sarah French), awakes to find herself locked in a prison cell. She is chained to the wall, there is a monitor in front of her and the only other item of note in the cell is a box filled with tools and knives.
The monitor activates and her kidnapper makes himself known. He’s ‘The Warden’ (Costas Mandylor), a Jigsaw wannabe, dressed in a monk’s cowl and a metallic Phantom of the Opera mask. It becomes apparent that Rachel and the rest of the faculty from her school have been abducted and imprisoned in order to play a game. The rules are simple: each round the contestants must choose an item from the box and perform a non-fatal self-mutilation, which is broadcast over the internet. The person with the least ‘likes’ is then eliminated in a spectacular fashion. Participation in the games is guaranteed via an explosive device embedded at the base of each players skull.
What follows is brutal in a way that makes ‘Saw’ look like ‘Winnie the Pooh’. With exploding heads, eye gouging and dismemberment, and that is just the first 15 minutes!
While the contestants struggle to figure out why they have been chosen and how to survive the
ordeal, across town the local P.D are on the case, in the form of Detectives Casey (Michael Madsen)
and Malone (Bill Connor).
Madsen is not looking his best here, as he plants his tongue firmly in his cheek and declares to the
captain: ‘I’m too old for this shit, what the fuck am I even doing here?’. The answer to that seems to
be chewing the scenery and endlessly expounding on the dangers of the internet, social media and
the ‘torture porn’ genre, maybe read the script first next time?
With the body count racking up faster that you can say ‘which way to the Hostel?’, the two
Detectives trace the source of the broadcast and race towards a confrontation with The Warden and a vain attempt to rescue at least one of the contestants, before it is ‘Game Over’ for all of them!
The biggest problem with this film is the pacing. At 82 mins it feels rushed. The gory set pieces are
well achieved but come so thick and fast that they quickly lose their potency. The acting is very good, except for Madsen, who isn’t even bothering to phone this in. Sarah French, on the other hand, is worth the price of admission alone. Ironically the ‘Death Count’ here racks up so fast that, by the time a belated attempt at back story and character development is thrown in, half the cast are dead, and the viewer doesn’t really care if the rest make it or not.
There’s a nub of a good film here, that makes me wish they had used Madsen’s fee to flesh out the
rest of the characters and spend more time building tension to the inevitable pay off. The film sets
itself up for a sequel and, if they can learn from the mistakes of this one, it will be well worth a
Review by Daniel Few