‘Play Dead’ is a Campy Horror Thriller that Never Lets Up [Watch]

Play Dead

Welcome to The Overlooked Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films are given their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct.’  

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This week’s selection is a film that I stumbled upon amidst a search for some mindless entertainment. And it certainly entertained me. Play Dead is a bit campy on occasion and will require suspension of disbelief to get the most bang for your buck. But it’s also an intense, scary, and exciting thrill ride that kept me continuously on edge. 

It wasn’t until after opting to watch the film that I registered Patrick Lussier was at the helm. But seeing the director’s name pop up in the opening credits reassured me I had made a sound decision. I am a fan of Lussier and have so much love for the projects on which he has collaborated with screenwriter Todd Farmer. Lussier flies without his frequent copilot on this effort (Simon Boyes and Adam Mason penned the script). But I had a great time with it and I think you will, too. 

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Play Dead sees orphaned brother and sister, Chloe (Bailee Madison) and T.J. (Anthony Turpel) in a bind when their family home is on the brink of foreclosure. Determined to keep their heads above water, T.J. makes the ill-advised decision to rob a cannabis dispensary with his friend Ross (Chris Lee). The heist doesn’t go as planned and Ross is pronounced dead on site, with T.J. narrowly escaping in one piece. But all is not well for T.J because Ross’ phone contains messages implicating him in the heist. After an unsuccessful attempt to gain entry to the morgue, Chloe, a forensic medicine student, fakes her death to gain access to the mortuary and recover her brother’s phone. Once she arrives at the facility, Chloe discovers the coroner on duty is a sadist with a sinister side hustle. And her presence puts her squarely in his crosshairs.  

As you can probably tell from the plot crunch, this contained horror-thriller revolves around a somewhat outrageous setup that requires the audience not to nitpick the serendipitous series of events that see the core characters winding up in a predicament for which they are so perfectly suited. But I was more than happy to look past the unlikely nature of the scenario in favor of just enjoying the ride. 

And what a ride it is. The film is filled with the kind of cat-and-mouse chase sequences I live for. From the time Chloe arrives at the morgue, up until the final frame rolls, the proceedings unfold at a breakneck pace. There’s barely time to catch your breath. As soon as Chloe escapes one terrifying scenario, she’s quickly plunged into another. Though Play Dead runs a bit longer than typical genre fare, clocking in at around 105 minutes, there’s never a dull moment. The action begins early on and continues at an unrelenting pace until the credits roll. 

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Lussier makes great use of the morgue setting to add an extra dose of intensity to the already harrowing setup.  He effectively captures the stark, cold energy of the locale, making it palpable to the audience. He uses cool tones and a dreary palette to imbue the morgue setting with an ominous and imposing quality that made me uneasy.  

The flick also serves up some excellent gore effects. One especially memorable sequence functions as a glorious nod to Lussier’s frequent collaborator (and Jason X scribe) Todd Farmer. To avoid giving too much away, I will just say that liquid nitrogen is involved and that I was not disappointed. 

In addition to delivering intense atmosphere and some great effects work, the film also benefits from some solid casting choices. Horror genre frequent flyer Bailee Madison (The Strangers: Prey at Night) is a sound choice to play the lead. She’s compelling in her turn as Chloe and she believably succeeds at conveying that she’s scared to death and in a constant state of panic.

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Jerry O’Connell (Satanic Panic) might seem an unlikely choice to play the depraved mortician. But he turns in a pretty solid showing. He brings a sadistic quality to the role that works well. He delivers a level of camp near the end that nods to his comedic background. But he maintains a very sinister presence, even in moments of dark comedy.  

In short, Play Dead is a thrilling affair that unfolds at a breakneck pace. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief throughout, you will absolutely have a fun time with this suspenseful horror thriller. 

If you’re curious to check the picture out for yourself, you’re in luck. As of the publication of this post, Play Dead is streaming on Prime Video (ad-free) and with ads on Tubi. 

That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you want to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on TwitterThreads, or Instagram @FunWithHorror.

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