Don't Die Movie Review

Written by Jamie Van Hove

Released by Cat Bird Studios


Directed by Benjamin Stark
Written by Jeremy Burgess and Benjamin Stark
2023, 80 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Panic Fest 2024 screening on 7th April 2024

Theodus Crane as Jenks
Virginia Newcomb as Julia
Joshua Burge as Randy
Frank Mosley as Trevor
Leilani Smith as Sally


About halfway through Don’t Die’s runtime, as I witnessed an understated montage of illicit medicine deliveries, I declared, "This isn’t a horror". Then, about ten minutes later, as two men stabbed one another with scalpels after one of them describing how he would harvest the other’s organs, I said, "Oh yeah, it’s a horror now", then about fifteen minutes later it wasn’t a horror film anymore.

That paragraph might sum up a key problem with this sprawling low-budget thriller. Starting as a trad-seeming crime feature, with protagonist Jenks, played by Theodus Crane, accidentally injuring a pharmacist as he attempts to steal necessary medicine, Don’t Die morphs through buddy movie, social commentary, conspiracy, attempted comedy, dips in and out of horror and even mixes in some agricultural spice.

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Jenks finds himself hiding out in the middle of nowhere with a mysterious criminal gang who supply black market medicines to those in need. He accompanies this gang on some deliveries; cue aforementioned montage of poor people gratefully picking up cannisters of pills.

But all is not as it seems. Or is it? It’s hard to tell to be honest. One of the nefarious yet also decidedly altruistic medicine mob wants to cut up our hero and give his organs to those in need (weirdly skipping over Jenks’ very own need for his very own organs). But others within the gang seem to think this act of cutting up a living person and giving their organs away may in some way go against their code of ethics. At least they might, it’s not explicitly stated. But there’s divisive vibes within the gang for sure. I think. This confused state stuck with me for the duration of the film.

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Although perhaps not to my personal taste, there’s nothing inherently wrong with sprawling, genre-hopping cinema. Look at Tarantino, folk love that schtick. It’s a thriller…no, it’s a vampire movie! Wild. But with Don’t Die, the category slippage seems almost accidental, more unfocused than intentionally post-modern. There’s a sense of the movie coasting, almost feeling like it was made up as it went along. As Jenks goes along, discovering facts about the gang he’s become involved in, seemingly so do the movie-makers, turning plot corners and being surprised by whatever’s around them.

Am I some kind of genre Nazi? I sure hope not. I don’t watch films waiting for their plots to creep over some arbitrary self-defined boundaries then calling the genre police (genre-darmes?) when it happens. But possibly Don’t Die, as a debut feature, would have benefited from a less-is-more approach, an attempt to focus rather than explore all potentialities.

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And I’m not against confusion. Some of my favourite films are not exactly linear or could even be said to have coherent plots, but this is something different. When my mum tells stories, she’s constantly interjecting and taking sideroads, “You remember her? She used to work at your Uncle Jim’s office? The office in Edinburgh? Next to that place? The place with the stripes?”; “And I had the chicken and she had…haddock, but it was with…oh what was it with? It was like, there were potatoes, cut thin and fried, and a sauce, but what was the veg? I can’t believe I can’t remember. Robert, what did Mary have at that restaurant? Oh he’s useless. Doesn’t remember anything.” (extract from my mum telling me about a shopping trip). Don’t Die had a similar effect upon me as one of my mum’s stories. I felt disoriented, vaguely harangued and I wanted it to stop.

If I hadn’t looked at the credits, I’d swear the film was written by committee, so much does it flip and flop and meander, seemingly trying to cram in a little bit of everything and never quite comfortably settling into anything.

It could be said the US healthcare system is a horror film in itself, but that’s a film I definitely don’t have the stomach for. Don’t Die, for all its possible good intentions, is not the movie to address that situation.


Movie: 1 Star Rating Cover

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