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Play Dead (2022) Review

Patrick Lussier parlayed a career editing everything from the original MacGyver to films by Wes Craven and Guillermo del Toro to Apollo 18 into a gig writing and directing the reboot of My Bloody Valentine. Unfortunately, that film’s success didn’t rub off on him and in the years since he’s only done a pair of features, Drive Angry and Trick, as well as some television.

Now he’s trying to break through again with Play Dead. It’s the story of Chloe (Bailee Madison, The Strangers: Prey at Night, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) a criminology student whose been left a house by her father. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave her any money and foreclosure looks imminent.

Her younger brother TJ (Anthony Turpel, The Bold and the Beautiful, Love, Victor) and her ex Ross (Chris Lee, Legacies, Back to Lyla) have a plan however, they’re going to rob from the rich to pay the mortgage. That gets Ross killed and TJ in trouble, as Ross’s phone has texts that implicate him in the crime.

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Now it’s Chloe’s turn to have a brilliant idea. She fakes her own death and is transported to the morgue, where she plans to grab Ross’ phone to save her brother. The only problem, the coroner (Jerry O’Connell, Stand By Me, Wetware) is working late, and she’s not the only one in there who’s been declared dead but is still alive thanks to his side hustle selling organs.

Now, I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but even I know that if you’re found dead on the street like you OD’ed, there’s going to be a few questions asked when you suddenly turn up alive as if nothing happened. Or that taking something that “significantly slows down your brain activity” is a good way to end up in a home shitting yourself for the rest of your life. Or writing scripts like Play Dead.

Apart from the stupidity of the central concept, Play Dead is a rehash of an old and much used plot. Coma was made over forty years ago, Blood Salvage dates back to 1990. And how many generic organ-harvesting films have we seen? The Train, Turistas, there was 122 from Egypt, and even Van Damme got in on it with Pound of Flesh.

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I could probably have accepted that if Play Dead delivered on the thrills, but even they’re hard to come by. For the first few minutes after she wakes up in the morgue, the only suspense is whether or not the sheet Chloe walks around in will slip off before she finds some scrubs. Once she does find them, the film turns into a cat-and-mouse type thriller whose one twist is spoiled by the trailer, not that you wouldn’t have guessed it before the film even gets to the morgue.

Indeed, so much of Play Dead is simply warmed-over clichés that I wonder if the script wasn’t one that had been lying around since the wave of organ harvesting films in the mid-2000s. Writers Simon Boyes and Adam Mason, co-writers of The Devil’s Chair, Junkie, and Hangman among others, were working together by then and this feels more like a beginner’s script, not the work of veteran writers.

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Maybe if Lussier had delivered the inventive deaths and plentiful gore his other genre films featured, Play Dead might have been at least tolerable. But rather than pushing the envelope, the violence here is on the low end of an “R” rating despite the subject matter. It also hurts that O’Connell plays it straight as the delusional villain who spouts pretentious lines about right and wrong, justifying his acts as eliminating the unworthy to help those deserving to live. His dialogue is so melodramatic it practically begs for a Vincent Price type delivery rather than the cold, emotionless one he gives it.

Play Dead was released in a few Baltic countries last December and in Australia yesterday, January 18th. Icon Film Distribution will release it in the UK on the Icon Film Channel on February 13th, with a theatrical release on March 17th. No US release has been announced. If you need something to bring you back to life after that, FilmTagger has some suggestions.

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