‘Play Dead’ review – One-location thriller is as fun as it is ridiculous

Logic has left the building in Play Dead, the new movie from Dracula 2000 and My Bloody Valentine (2009) director Patrick Lussier. When two young siblings get themselves in a real bind, the sister does the unthinkable to help her brother avoid jailtime. Soon enough, she’s dealing with a malicious coroner whose own nefarious activities make a little armed robbery look like jaywalking. This one-location movie doesn’t have much going on in the brains department, but it is a lot of fun if you turn off your own brain for a while.

Hard times lead to desperation. Bailee Madison‘s character Chloe knows this for a fact after losing her father to suicide. Making matters worse, Chloe is dead broke since her father’s life insurance didn’t pay out. She’s about to lose her and her brother’s house if she can’t scrounge up some cash — and fast. This is where Play Dead starts to become both absurd and interesting. Chloe’s brother T.J. (Anthony Turpel), hoping to make some quick money to pay the mortgage and his sister’s tuition, plays the getaway driver in a failed stickup. And soon the only thing keeping him out of a prison jumpsuit is the police not discovering his part in the crime just yet. T.J.’s accomplice and Chloe’s ex, Ross (Chris Lee), didn’t survive the shootout, but once the cops get a hold of his phone, they’ll know T.J. was also involved.

So, what’s a big sis to do when her only remaining family member might be taken away from her? Fake her death and break into the morgue where her ex-boyfriend’s body and belongings are being held, that’s what. Chloe’s a dropout due to life circumstances, but her medical studies come in handy when she needs to find her way into the foreboding city morgue. She fakes her death well enough to get past the door, but upon waking up on a metal slab, Chloe is immediately mixed up in the coroner’s (Jerry O’Connell) shady side job.

Play Dead is essentially a retread of the admittedly better youth-versus-madman thriller Don’t Breathe. Economic struggles cause young people to do something foolish? Check. When they’ve committed crimes to avoid further legal trouble, the tables are turned on them in almost karmic fashion? Check. Simon Boyes and Adam Mason don’t write a novel script, but their setting it inside a morgue is clever. There aren’t a lot of suspense movies whose stories are confined to these places, which is strange considering how naturally unsettling and atmospheric morgues are. Lussier plays up the innate disquietude and neatly communicates the claustrophobic quality.

As idiotic as they are, Chloe and T.J. are endearing. They were making the best of a bad situation even before the morgue predicament came into view. Lesser talented young actors couldn’t pull off such rash and plucky characters, but Bailee and Turpel are atypical. Bailee is especially solid as the sister whose moral compass shorts out whenever family is involved. As for O’Connell, he may not always be attached to the most serious projects in his adult career, yet here he shows up ready to party as the cold-blooded Coroner. He does creepy and intense without forgetting to have fun.

Play Dead has a ludicrous set-up, the characters make questionable choices left and right, and the movie could have benefitted from a small trim. It doesn’t win points for originality either, but Lussier’s ability to keep the story always moving and exciting, despite the single location and simple story, helps tremendously in the long run. Once the movie gets up and going, there’s some real life in this tense cat-and-mouse thriller.

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