death count | michael su | michael merino | rolfe kanefsky | costas mandylor | michael madsen | robert lasardo | game | internet | united states | sarah french | bj mezek | devanny pinn | wesley cannon | denny nolan | dave shecter | kimberly lynn cole | dee cutrone
Film: Death Count
Director: Michael Su
Writers: Michael Merino and Rolfe Kanefsky
Starring: Costas Mandylor, Michael Madsen and Robert LaSardo
This is a movie that I had the pleasure of watching when the producer, Sonny Mahal, reached out and asked if I wanted to check out the screener. I agreed since I enjoy watching independent cinema. There was promotional materials sent over, but knowing that this was horror, it was enough for me to see this. I did know that this starred Michael Madsen and Robert LaSardo coming in.
Synopsis: strangers awaken in individual holding cells with no memory of how they arrived. They realize if they don’t acquire online ‘likes’ in a timely manner, they’ll die horribly at the hands of a sinister executioner.
We start this movie getting the lay of the land and meeting our lead, Rachel Phillips (Sarah French). She has a chain around her neck and in a holding cell. She soon realizes she’s not alone. There are other people here that she knows. They all work together at the same school. There is Jose Mendez (LaSardo) who is a janitor. There is John Bruno (BJ Mezek) who I believe is the principal. We also have Selena Marshall (Devanny Pinn), Coach Roberts (Wesley Cannon), Mr. Turner (Denny Nolan), Mr. Curtis (Dave Shecter) and Kim (Kimberly Lynn Cole).
In each of their cells is a toolbox that is full, a monitor and a camera. They’re being held here against their will by the Warden (Costa Mandylor). He forces them to play a game. We see what happens if you don’t comply. Everyone has a device in their neck that kills them. The rules are simple. The Warden gives a command, they have so long to follow through or face the consequences.
What is happening is broadcasted over the internet. This draws the attention of the police. Detective Casey (Madsen) and his partner, Detective Tanner (Charles Solomon Jr.) are tasked with getting to the bottom of this. What makes it difficult is that Casey isn’t tech savvy. They must work together to figure out where this is happening. They know it must be local. It becomes a race against time where contestants are picked off one by one. They need to figure out who is behind it and soon realize they’re being punished for something they caused as to why they were taken.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap as well as introducing the main characters involved. Where I’ll start with my breakdown is that we are getting a take on ‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christy. The story is explicitly referenced by Rachel. They also use a song that was inspired by this work. Since there are so many takes of this story, you must do something to set yours apart. How this one does it is by being a combination of Saw and Untraceable. I don’t mind this as it makes for an interesting product.
Where I want to delve deeper first would be with the main premise. The Saw references start here as Rachel along with the rest of the participants wake up in a cell and not know how they got there. As our lead, she tries to piece things together. The Warden even asks them if they want to play a game. This is directly inspired. It also interesting as this character was in many of the Saw films. Since Rachel is trying to piece things together, we have this odd choice that John among others disagree with her assessment of what is happening. This doesn’t fit to me as her steps in logic make sense. It just feels like the cheap way of looking at things that people groan about with horror movies. This doesn’t ruin the movie, but it did annoy me slightly. To end this thought, the game they play isn’t complex. They are forced to hurt themselves, but not commit suicide. It is fine overall and can see what they’re doing.
The other reference I’ll look at next is Untraceable. I got this as what the Warden is doing is being broadcasted over the internet. People can vote on what they want to happen. The characters in the movie question this. I also do. I think it would help the movie if we saw people watching what they’re doing. We know it is being shown as people are calling into the police to report it. This movie falls on characters talking for information dumps. This isn’t as effective as showing us things. I like what they’re trying to do here, I just don’t know if it is effective as they thought.
This idea of information being told to us by characters is where I’ll go next. Rachel picks up that since it is everyone from the same school, it is a disgruntled student or parent. It is funny to me that characters disagree with her at first. What other explanation could it be? I’m not going to hold this against the movie but wanted to bring that up once more. The reason that is given works. I think with how things ended up is believable for the overall story for me. There could be more developed, but it is fine.
I’ll then move away from the story to the acting. I thought that Mandylor is fine as the Warden. If anything, I think that they could have developed this character more. He isn’t necessarily menacing and I don’t understand why he looks like The Phantom of the Opera, but it is more eerie. French is fine as our lead. She makes connections which makes sense. We do see her topless. This did feel forced, but it does make sense with the story. The rest of the cast is also fine that are part of the game. The best was probably Pinn. She strips down to her underwear, which wasn’t bad. It feels like Rachel there. I hate to say that Madsen feels like he’s just collecting a paycheck and LaSardo is in a blink and you’ll miss him role.
Lastly will be the filmmaking. The best part of the movie is the effects. They do good things there. It looked like they went practical with everything they could and I appreciate that. There is good blood and gore. There is a bit of CGI that didn’t work for me, but I’m forgiving. The cinematography doesn’t necessarily stand out. I had no issues though either. The other bit would be the soundtrack. That fit without standing out or hurting the movie.
In conclusion, this movie is taking elements from movies that we’ve seen before and meshing them together. I think that works well enough, but it also doesn’t necessarily stand out. There are good elements here. They just don’t do enough to make it fully work. That goes for the story. The effects were good though aside from some spots of CGI. The acting isn’t great, but this is a lower budget movie so I can be forgiving. This movie is also made well enough where I didn’t have issues. I would say that this is movie is over average for me. With tweaks and it could have been better. It is worth a watch as well.
My Rating: 6 out of 10