You Die, an agreeable Italian genre offering with the wholly unnecessary subtitle, “Get the app, then die,” takes the premise that last year’s completely rubbish Countdown squandered within the first ten seconds and pares it right back, relying on physical actors and creeping dread to make its point rather than overcomplicating matters with unconvincing supernatural elements and characters we neither care about nor believe in. This is small-scale stuff, for sure, but it’s all the better for it, proving once again that big budgets and known performers (well, the annoying chick from You) don’t guarantee scare potential or audience enjoyment.
Opening with a young woman walking alone in a deserted subway station, You Die begins by playing off the age-old fear of a male stranger when, first, another traveller stands for too long, his back to her, staring at a sign. When he wanders off, the woman breathes a sigh of relief, only to feel her heartbeat quicken again almost instantly when a creepy dude starts strolling down the tracks toward her, weapon in hand. After fleeing and tracking down an ex-lover, who conveniently lives alone, the woman grabs his phone and downloads an app to it before legging it once again, telling him simply to “Download it to someone else.”
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It’s an intriguing prologue, establishing the existence of the creepy titular app and its bizarre video-game like setup – which utilizes augmented reality to showcase how there are spirits wandering around everywhere, just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting living beings – without leaning too heavily on energy-sapping exposition. When the real protagonist of the piece, Asia (Erica Landolfi) emerges, she doesn’t even realize the app is on her phone until it starts beeping, leading her friends, disbelieving Viola (Alice Piano) and true love and horror aficionado Leo (Rocco Marrazzita) to coo over how cool it is (to be fair, the little red skull that fades in and out is dope ass, and the alert noise is super creepy, giving the app a genuine air of atmospheric impending doom).
You Die is a goofy title for a goofy movie (not the Goofy Movie though, that’s a different vibe entirely) and there are moments, such as when the central trio sit down to watch a clearly terrible horror sequel called The Slaughter 3 and gripe over how terrible it is – “the movie sucks, the acting is terrible, and we know they’re all gonna die at the end anyway” Asia complains in a cheeky moment of maybe-prescience – that flirt with outright comedy. Leo has It Follows on Blu-ray, fishing it out while searching for their choice for the night. You Die actually pays homage to that movie via looming figures and the whole idea of passing the affliction on, but it’s evident the filmmakers are fans of horror and wanted to make it clear they’re not trying to rip anybody off. Likewise, a reference to The Ring also seems to tackle accusations of unimaginativeness head on.
By relying on physical actors to play the ghosts, You Die displays an essential tactility. The threat feels realer because there’s somebody actually standing just beyond the frame. There are just a few instances of limbs reaching out of the phone screen to grab at characters, all very well done, but the filmmakers made the right decision by rooting their story in the real world rather than trying to paper over the cracks with dodgy VFX. It’s always scarier to have somebody physically there, and to feel that presence, than to spot the fuzziness on their outline. Emphasizing that this is a horror film made by horror fans, the jumps are well-timed and cleverly executed while an incident of body horror, with a wound-tattoo, is nicely gruesome and gooey.
The setup itself, which sees the owner of the phone with the app on it given just 24 hours to pass it on (much shorter than the week afforded Sadako’s victims) or perish, is suitably intimidating. Asia quickly learns that, if she tries to delete it, she loses an hour. If she destroys her phone, however, the time runs out completely and she dies instantly. As the movie progresses, it becomes clearer, as with many films of this ilk, that there’s really only one way it’s going to end for poor Asia. But that doesn’t make it any less thrilling to watch her fight against the app with everything she’s got, and to hope for her survival against the odds.
Landolfi gives a spirited, committed performance with ample support from Marrazzita as the clearly smitten Leo, the two forming a mini Scooby gang of two in order to crack the case. Although she’s side-lined for much of the action, Piano, too, is a likeable screen presence, whether she’s impersonating a horror icon or telling her BFF nonchalantly that dating apps “have never killed anyone” (another cheeky hint at what’s to come). With material this ostensibly silly, the central performances shine through even clearer. These young actors give it socks whether running screaming for their lives or vegging out on the sofa in front of a scary movie and You Die is at pains to showcase how addicted they are to their phones, also, making them the ideal victims for a killer app.
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With a premise this strong and a cast this convincing, it’s a shame the trio of writer-directors (Alessandro Antonaci, Daniel Lascar, and Stefano Mandalà) behind this movie didn’t have more confidence in the material. The score is a little intrusive, and robs certain scenes of their tension, while there are moments, albeit few and far between, when things feel over-explained and the action stalls. There are also, obviously, the two aforementioned nods to other flicks that perhaps the filmmakers were worried they’d be accused of copying (there was no need, this flick definitely stands on its own). Still, You Die is a terrific concept in its own right, kept mostly in its simplest form for maximum scare potential. There are some dodgy moments, such as a distinct lack of blood on the affected area following a head injury, but they’re minor quibbles in what is otherwise a solid little bare bones chiller.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Alessandro Antonaci, Daniel Lascar, and Stefano Mandalà
Writer(s): Alessandro Antonaci, Daniel Lascar, and Stefano Mandalà
Stars: Erica Landolfi, Rocco Marazzita, Alice Piano
Release date: May 12, 2020 (Digital and DVD)
Studio/Production Company: Eryde Produzioni
Run Time: 94 minutes