Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Tell Me How I Die (or Just Shut Up)

If the crop of twenty-nothings on display in this laughable horror-thriller is any indication, then we have no future. Neither do they. As human subjects in a memory-boosting drug trial, they start having flashforward visions of the future. Unfortunately, many of them involve the murder of their fellow guinea pigs. Apparently, a former lab rat is out to end the program permanently in D.J. Viola’s Tell Me How I Die (trailer here) which releases today on DVD.

Having just been fired from her bartending gig, Anna agrees to participate in a weekend drug study. At least she really needs the money. Most of her fellow college students in the trial are just wastrels who had their allowance cut. There is also the wise-cracking Scratch, who is there because he digs the Real World-style accommodations provided by Halloran Pharmaceuticals, whereas Den came because he has a crush on Anna. Most rational people will assume Den is short for Dennis, but these brain surgeons act like it is the most exotic name they ever heard.

Obviously, these kids need to get out more, but instead, they are about to be locked in with a maniac with more advanced powers of precognition. Pascal already polished off one of the doctors who developed the formula in the prologue, but his jerky partner Dr. Jerrems is still administering the test protocols in Halloran’s remote mountain headquarters, sort of the office building equivalent of the Overlook Hotel.

Half the kids get placebos, but Anna makes up for them with the macabre specificity of her visions. She foresees several characters’ deaths, including the gratingly obnoxious Marcus, who just can’t die soon enough. Do they die because of Pascal’s sinister actions or do the visions become a self-fulfilling prophecy? The film teases us with that question, but it lacks the wits to properly engage with the underlying metaphysical issues.

The young and shallow ensemble does not help much either. They have a bit of attitude, but not nearly enough to warrant the comparisons to Scream and Know What You Did Last Summer Viola is so obviously fishing for. As Den, Nathan Kress is pretty bland and Virginia Gardner is only slightly less vanilla as Anna. Ryan “YouTube Star” Higa earns a few laughs as Scratch, even though his character is a completely unnecessary fifth wheel.

William Mapother and Mark Rolston are the only ones who seem to understand they are in a horror movie and play it up accordingly as the heartless Dr. Jerrems and his arrogant, scenery-chewing boss, Dr. Layton. Sadly, as Pascal, Ethan Peck looks horribly embarrassed to be in any way associated with this film, which makes him far less ominously imposing than he could have been.

For what its worth, Viola and cinematographer David McGrory make it all look pretty slick. Frustratingly, it is only moderately goofy, so it is impossible to take seriously, but it is still not crazy enough to enjoy as a guilty pleasure. Weirdly betwixt and between, Tell Me How You Die is not recommended, but perversely curious genre might still be tempted to torture themselves with it, when it releases today on DVD.