The healthcare system in the United States must be well and truly fucked if people are resorting to the black market for organ transplants. Directed by Patrick Lussier, known for his numerous collaborations with Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream), Play Dead stars Bailee Madison (The Strangers: Prey at Night) as criminology and forensic medicine student Chloe. After the death of her parents, foreclosure on their family home is imminent, but her brother TJ (Anthony Turpel) has a plan – details of which are stored on an iPhone – to make a few bucks. What could possibly go wrong?
The heist abruptly falls apart when TJ’s partner in crime (Chris Lee) is caught off-guard by buckshot and TJ has to flee fast; his friend left for dead and the incriminating cellular device left at the crime scene. Distraught and unable to control his stutter, TJ confesses his mistake to Chloe.
“You planned a robbery on a fucking iPhone!”
If TJ goes to jail, that will break Chloe’s promise to her parents; to keep TJ safe. They have to get that cell phone back from the evidence room at the county morgue; already bagged and tagged for the sheriff (Chris Butler) to claim in the morning. The coroner (Jerry O’Connell, Scream 2) works autopsies alone, allowing Chloe enough time to sneak in and retrieve the device without detection. But unbeknownst to the two siblings, the coroner plans on working overtime tonight; extracting organs from pathetic losers defined by one undeniable truth:
“All that you are, all that you’ve done… is worth considerably less than the sum of your parts.”
Patrick Lussier is no stranger to the macabre world of cult horror; from editing Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) and Scream (1997) to directing Dracula 2000 (2000) and My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009), the underrated remake to the 1981 slasher! Lussier has also directed episodes of Scream and The Purge for television, which leads me to my only criticism… Play Dead’s first half-hour feels like a made-for-TV melodrama.
The budget is low, the dialogue uninspired, and the setup implausible – Chloe volunteers to inject propofol in order to “play dead” and gain entry to the coroner’s house of horrors – but once Chloe is discovered to be alive, Lussier successfully builds suspense with surgical precision; Bailee Madison and Jerry O’Connell’s chemistry giving life to screenwriters Simon Boyes and Adam Mason’s sadistic game of cat-and-mouse!
Just like the character he portrays, O’Connell takes pride in his work, cracking open corpses with grim composure and chasing down organ “donors” with gleeful menace; all in an attire sharper than the coroner’s scalpel! Through stomach-churning body horror, and a John Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore, this blackly comic thriller succeeds in increasing your heart rate until its satisfying, grand guignol denouement. Dedicated to the late, great Wes Craven, Play Dead may be missing an organ or two, but its heart remains in the right place; still beating!
Play Dead premiered exclusively on the Icon Film Channel, is out now in selected UK cinemas, and is available to own on DVD & Digital 17th April. Sign up for a 7-day free trial at iconfilmchannel.uk