sat 25/05/2024

Play Dead review - chills, thrills and stolen body parts | reviews, news & interviews

Play Dead review - chills, thrills and stolen body parts

Play Dead review - chills, thrills and stolen body parts

Patrick Lussier's thriller is low-budget but never cheap

Dead reckoning: Jerry O'Connell as the coroner, Bailee Madison as Chloe

The moral of this story is that if you’re going out to commit a robbery, don’t take your iPhone with you. This was the grave error committed by TJ (Anthony Turpel) and his friend Ross (Chris Lee), whose attempted heist was foiled by an angry shotgun-toting citizen. TJ managed to get away, but Ross – carrying the iPhone containing incriminating evidence of the pair’s guilt – was shot and left for dead.

When a distraught TJ confessed all to his sister Chloe (Bailee Madison), he thought his goose was cooked. However, Chloe had other ideas. Unleashing the deductive powers that have made her an apt student of criminology and forensic medicine, she instantly concluded that their only option was to get inside the local morgue and remove the phone before the cops had a chance to examine it.

Chloe knew how to do it, too – she’d inject herself with a drug which slowed the body’s metabolism to undetectable levels, and would thus be carried into the morgue by posing as a corpse. What could possibly go wrong?

It might have seemed like a plausible plan at the time, but it hadn’t allowed for the possibility that the coroner might be a cold-blooded psychopath who used his privileged access to the dead to carve them up and sell their body parts. By his estimation, once you’d sawn, carved and hacked all the good bits out of a corpse, you could be looking at upwards of a million bucks. All told, a very tidy racket (pictured below, Anthony Turpel and Bailee Madison).

Director Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine, Dracula 2000) has taken this promising nugget of plot and fashioned it into a tense and blackly comic thriller that keeps the tension ratcheting up. He was clearly working within a fairly constrained budget, but Play Dead never feels cheap. The action is mostly set among the examination rooms, corridors and underground passageways of a forbidding state institution, but Lussier and his screenwriters Simon Boyes and Adam Mason keep finding new angles from which to jangle your nerves and spring their next hair-raising twist. There are elements of haunted-house mystery and carefully rationed doses of vomit-evoking body horror, but Lussier’s pacing is assured. Your eventual reward is a very satisfying, albeit gleefully sadistic, denouement.

Lussier is assisted in his mission by Steve Moore’s doomy, John Carpenter-esque synthesizer music and some deft casting. Turpel’s TJ seems to be a fragile, possibly autistic casualty, but his crass ineptitude as a stick-up man is somewhat ameliorated by his tragic family background (briskly sketched in but not laboured). Big sister Chloe has had to step up to the plate after the loss of their parents (TJ's abortive robbery was to raise cash to stop them becoming homeless) and former child star Madison brings to the role a cool determination and clarity of thought that must surely point her towards a career trending steadily upwards.

The monster of the piece is the coroner, chillingly rendered by Jerry O’Connell. He’s very much from the “banality of evil” school, cloaked in the guise of a drone-like public functionary but seething inside with jealousy and vengefulness. Why he’s like this we don’t know, but somebody needs to stop him. And it’s not going to be Chris Butler’s exceedingly dubious Sheriff Duggan…

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