Horror films, even more than other genres of cinema, often require us to engage in the “Suspension Of Disbelief,” also known as the “Suspension Of Doubt.” This term, which is relevant to cinema, television, theater, books, and other mediums, refers to the ability of consumers to ignore the degree of plausibility, realism, or logic of the story or basic assumptions that are part of it so that they can enjoy it even when the story is problematic. When I saw the description of the movie “Play Dead”, and in some terms also while watching it, I couldn’t help but remember the theory studies in cinema and communication, which exposed me to concepts of this kind.
That’s because this little horror thriller, now showing in theaters in Israel, requires you to leave your brain out or, to paraphrase the film’s foreign title: pretend to be “dead.” Those who do it for over an hour and a half will be able to enjoy a movie that mostly manages to be entertaining. All the details in this “Play Dead” review.
The Logical Illogicality Of “Play Dead”
My first doubt arose from the rather basic description of the plot of “Play Dead.” The film is about a criminology student named Chloe (Bailee Madison, who we’ll get to later), who faces complex financial difficulties following her father’s suicide. Chloe has a brother named TJ (Anthony Turpel), who one bright day decides to commit a robbery with his partner Ross (Chris Lee), who happens to be Chloe’s ex. The heist goes wrong, Ross is killed, and TJ escapes. Very quickly, he discovers that Ross’s cell phone, on which they texted about the robbery intentions – because that is precisely what you do on your cell phone – was left at the scene.
Chloe thinks of a solution: sneak into the local morgue to steal the sight, assuming (which is explained in the film in a way that didn’t convince me) that the cops won’t pick her up until the next day. The problem is that the morgue is behind a high fence and ferocious dogs, so the only solution is for Chloe to overdose, resulting in her being pronounced dead. She will arrive at the morgue as a full-fledged corpse, wake up, take the mysterious phone, and go home happy while preventing her brother from spending most of his life in prison.
I’m not an expert in drugs, criminology, or medicine. You may have doubts about Chloe’s plan to stay alive. Leaving this evidence in the morgue for a whole night is far from logical, but I’m not a policeman. It may not matter because, usually, in movies of this type, I prefer not to try to check the truth of the inner world (unless it’s a catastrophe). Happily, at some point – after I put my brain in a morgue freeze or something – the movie got better.
As we can deduce from the trailer – which, like other horror films, shows a little too much than it is supposed to – at some point, Chloe discovers the morgue is not as innocent as it seems. The pathologist has very evil plans: to keep the patients alive to sell their organs. From that moment, a game of cat and mouse will begin between the pathologist and Chloe, based mainly on short, suspenseful scenes. Not all of these scenes work, of course (in fact, I found the suspenseful “Will Chloe find a robe before the improvised towel she’s wearing after waking up naked from “death” sequence falls off her as one of the film’s most effective), and a lot of them don’t make sense. There are a few twists, some are far from convincing, but the film stays enjoyable, thanks to a few things.
Bailee Madison: More Than Meets The Eye
Here it is worth stopping and talking about the two main actors. Bailee Madison is one of Hollywood’s new generation. Like actresses her age, she began her career at the age of two weeks in an “Office Depot” commercial and made her first significant role in the horror world (in general) in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” a very likable horror film from 2010 with Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce. In the movie, Madison plays Sally, who moves in with her father and his girlfriend in an old house and discovers that malicious creatures inhabit it. She impressed and was nominated for Best Actress at Fangoria Magazine’s Texas Chainsaw Awards.
Bailee Madison movies and tv shows have some connection to horror, thankly. In 2016, she starred in a small and rather casual horror film called “The Night Before Halloween,” in which a group of young people has to deal with a curse that kills someone the night before Halloween unless they can get another person to kill someone else. In 2018, she was pretty impressive in the role of one of the members of a family who is pursued by three brutal killers in “The Strangers: Prey At Night,” the sequel to “The Strangers.”
In 2022, Madison starred in “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.” The series, a horror spin-off of “Pretty Little Liars,” takes it into the realms of a modern teenage slasher. In the series, which received overall positive reviews and will also receive a second season, Madison plays one of the leading roles as one of a group of girls who are haunted by some tragic act committed by their mothers 22 years ago, or if you will: “I still know what your parents did a few decades ago.”
In “Play Dead,” according to the writer of these lines, Bailee Madison is undoubtedly impressive. Although she has to deal with some mediocre dialogues (especially at the beginning of the film) and a script that doesn’t always make sense, she has enough charisma and toughness to carry the movie on her shoulders. We would love to continue to see Balee Madison in horror movies and TV series because she has all the potential to be a great last girl.
Jerry O’Connell Does The Job Once Again
Standing in front of her was Jerry O’Connell. We remember O’Connell mainly as Kevin Mallory from the series “Sliders,” and for some very likable horror roles in the decades since: among other things, we saw him as Sidney Prescott’s friend in “Scream 2” and in some reasonable films such as “Piranha 3D” and “Wish Upon” With Joey King and more. Beyond the fact that O’Connell looks the same for dozens of years (that’s a compliment, yes?), he does manage to create a pretty convincing character here.
Our pathologist isn’t the smartest you’ll find in the morgue. It is evident that in some cases, the script makes him make bizarre choices to provide an excuse for Chloe to continue hiding from him and, later, fight him. His motivations are explained, but not very convincingly at times, and the attempt to create a measure of humanity for her through the well-known trick of “Oh, look. He’s a family guy because his kids are asking when he’s coming home!” doesn’t work well.
But O’Connell makes the most of the role, being menacing and psychotic in equal measure. Don’t expect an unforgettable role of a villain here, but one whose presence is a little more significant compared to a large part of the horror films that have come to our regions in recent years.
“Play Dead” Could Be More Deadly
Movies of this type rely, to a large extent, on the director’s ability to sweep us away with compelling scenes and sequences of tension. Patrick Lussier is an established director of horror films and, in the best tradition of current Hollywood, also a producer, editor, and screenwriter in some cases. During his career, he directed several rather unremarkable Dracula sequels (“Dracula 2000”, “Dracula 2” and “Dracula 3”), the sequel to “White Noise” (“White Noise 2: The Light” from 2007), and also The mediocre innovation of “My Bloody Valentine” and the film “Drive Angry” with Amber Heard, no can be considered a horror movie because all of us learned what happened when she drives angry.
Lussier does show his experience and does a decent job in the film, which had a relatively minor budget (we didn’t find the exact information about its budget) and mainly consisted of one location. The film does not feel “cheap” in any way, although I do think that the location or the scenes that take place in it could have been constructed in a slightly creepier way.
All in all, a morgue can be a reasonable basis for horror films (“The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” “The Possession of Hannah Grace,” “Pathology”), some of them about the seam between life and death (“The Lazarus Effect,” “Flatliners” and others). “Play Dead” does not go all the way in these respects, and it’s a shame. The film could have taken a slightly more extreme direction regarding the gore (which appears here mainly towards the end), the scares, or the humor, but that can be said about many films today.
The Bottom Line Of “Play Dead” Review: Let Your Brain Be Dead
So should you watch “Play Dead”? It largely depends on your expectations of the film, which is very suitable for light home viewing in the evening (the film received limited distribution in the United States and grossed less than half a million dollars).
“Play Dead” is far from being a masterpiece, of course. Some of you may refuse to accept the lack of logic or the holes in the plot or will have difficulty surviving the problematic beginning or the less successful moments throughout the film. For those who enjoy thrillers and horror movies that let our brains rest, enjoy some effective chases, ridiculous twists, some jump scare scenes, and a bit of a puppy, “Play Dead” can do the trick.
You can watch or buy “Play Dead” on Amazon (Note:We may make a commission for purchases made through this link)