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Death Count

Critic:

Patrick Foley

|

Posted on:

26 Jun 2022

Film Reviews
Death Count
Directed by:
Michael Su
Written by:
Michael Merino
Starring:
Costas Mandylor, Michael Madsen, Sarah French
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A gory torture-porn seemingly assembled from a host of superior established contemporaries; Death Count is an acceptable, sometimes-impressive, sometimes eye-rolling horror that works best when poking fun at its own ridiculousness.

 

Rachel (Sarah French) awakens trapped in a cell with no memory of how she was imprisoned. Surrounding her are other prisoners, all linked to the school where she works. They soon realise they are part of a sick game ran by ‘The Warden’ (Costas Mandylor) who orders the captees to torture themselves for online ‘likes’, or face execution. Meanwhile Detectives Casey (Michael Madsen) and Tanner (Charles Solomon Jr.) try to hunt The Warden down.

 

Death Count borrows from the likes of Saw, Nerve and Squid Game to deliver a predictable, campy, B-movie bloodbath. Horror fans will enjoy it’s use of practical effects and extended torture scenes – which makes smaller-scale punishment horrifically agonising through the purposeful direction of Michael Su. The film is at its agony-inducing best when lingering just long enough on basic brutality, involving items like pliers and screwdrivers, rather than more over-the-top scenes which expose the poor visual effects such as those with the use of fire.

 

Plot-wise however, it is at best predictable, and at worst nonsensical. Not that many will be tuning in for a majestic narrative mind, but even basic storytelling feels muddled, and the dialogue lazy and one-note. There are plot-holes galore, characters rambling on tangents that are crying out for an edit, and the mystery surrounding The Warden’s identity ends up as a frustrating red-herring and a wasted opportunity to add some much-needed originality. The mysterious mastermind also drops puns throughout that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze from Batman & Robin cringe – it is unclear if he is meant to be intentionally campy – but Christmas-cracker-standard jokes certainly don’t suit the character’s vibe, or Costas Mandylor’s booming baritone.

 

Despite some eye-rolling dialogue, Mandylor’s performance itself is solid, and The Warden’s sinister pleasure in running his own ‘Jigsaw-style’ game is apparent despite his face being obscured. Sarah French is admirable as well as Rachel, a classic ‘final girl’ (who is even referred to as such) whose development into a leader is notable throughout the film. The rest of the prisoner cast however are largely hammy or wooden, with little in-between. It feels like the casting must have started and stopped at the actor’s best ‘torture faces’, as most of their performances either side of screaming their guts out are lifeless.

 

A real saving-grace for the film however are scenes between Michael Madsen and Charles Solomon Jr’s detective pair, whose quest to find the torture house delivers some brilliant, genre-aware musings. Madsen’s natural cool comes across as the unflappable and grizzled Detective Casey, and the buddy-cop relationship with Solomon Jr’s Tanner adds some welcome self-aware commentary on the film, and the ‘torture game’ genre in general. The pair’s chemistry could support a full-length movie in its own right, and the director wisely gives the pair plenty of screentime to flourish.

 

Death Count never really escapes the shadow of its influences, and fails to concoct anything out of its many borrowed parts that improves upon their original sources. There really isn’t much to engage with for anyone outside of devoted horror fanatics – apart from Michael Madsen generally just being Michael Madsen.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Digital / DVD Release, Film Festival, Theatrical Release