“Choose” 2011. Directed by Marcus Graves. Starring Katheryn Winnick, Kevin Pollack and Nicholas Tucci. An angry fellow in a hoodie forces a group of seemingly unconnected victims to make unthinkable choices in this indie horror film. You have one minute to make your choice between two dreadful fates, and if the blood-filled hourglass runs out without your decision, you get both alternatives.
“He makes the rules. You make the choice.”
In the harrowing opening scene, a teenage girl takes a break from Skyping with her friend to finally notice that her entire family is tied to their beds. She is captured by a hooded madman with a knife and a simple choice: “Your mother or your father. One of them dies, or your whole family dies. Now…CHOOSE!”
The terrified girl’s father tells her to choose him, and the killer puts a hunting knife in the decision maker’s hands. Not only must she choose, she has to stab her parent to death. After the deed is done, the monstrous intruder slips away.
Besides victims, he leaves behind two mementos of sorts: an hourglass made from chemistry vials and his symbol, a circular maze pattern with a figure about to choose a path through it.
Rather than calling him “The Killer” for the whole review, I’ll dub him The Decisioner. No, not quite right. How about Choicey Pants? Yeah. That’ll work.
Now let’s meet our plucky heroine.
She is Fiona Wagner, a journalism student with the unfortunate habit of leaving her apartment door unlocked while she takes lengthy showers, despite the news stories about a crazed killer rampaging around campus. Her dad is Sheriff Tom Wagner, who is investigating the Choicey Pants deaths, and complaining about his daughter’s blatantly unsecured front door. Fiona gets pulled into the case when she begins receiving messages commenting on the drowning death of her mother three years before in a seedy motel.
Fiona decides to take a look at the hotel room where her mother stayed on the last night of her life, and runs afoul of a perverted old dude who attempts to threaten her into having sex with him. It doesn’t go well for him.
Note to readers: if you get hostile instant messages from a mysterious and decision obsessed maniac, take our advice and meet this person in a secluded area to work things out.
Meanwhile, ol’ Choicey has been a busy boy. He attacks a concert pianist and threatens to take either his hearing or his fingers. The victim goes with the digits and is then presented with a choice of cutting implements; a hatchet to take them all at once or a pair of razor-sharp snips.
Then our hooded antagonist sets his sights on a vain model who retires to her dressing room after a photo shoot. Choicey Pants barges in with a camera, popping the flash to disorient his prey. Pulling out a blowtorch, he presents her with two delightful options:
“I’ve come to offer you a choice. Your eyesight or your beauty. You have 60 seconds to decide. Either you’ll never see yourself again, or the world will finally see you for the miserable hag you really are.”
She chooses neither, and gets the ultimate extreme makeover.
A pile of library books about Decision Making are left on Fiona’s desk. With a computer expert friend, she tracks the distinctive bar codes on the books to a defunct detention center for young men. This leads to Dr. Ronald Pendelton, who once ran a Choice Therapy program at the Milburn Juvenile Delinquent Detention Center. It seems that horrific physical abuse transpiring within its walls brought down the institution.
Oh, and guess who ran the place?
Here’s a hint: his young daughter was forced to stab him to death in the beginning.
Pendelton is a little strange, mostly because he is played by the great Bruce Dern. He lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and has a fairly casual attitude towards the murderous psychopath that his therapy sessions created. He points out that the chain of evidence leading Fiona and Tom to him was left by Choicey for exactly this reason. It’s his game and only his choices that move the pawns around the board.
“He chose you. That’s interesting. And so far you’ve been holding up your part of the bargain, and that’s also interesting. Most people would’ve turned tail and run.”
The former therapist gives Tom his old files and VHS videos of patient sessions, and we see how Choice Therapy went down in Milburn.
A young man is holding an adorable female pug in his arms, as Pendelton says,“Do it now. Snap her neck or stay in here for another ten years.”
It is through the final tape in the collection that we get our first real glimpse of the killer sans hood. One scene in the recording made me, a veteran horror fan and animal lover, wince.
It also reveals the true name of Choicey: Nathan Jones.
We learn that Jones was adopted at birth and then returned to foster care at age 3, citing mental issues and destructive behavior. He was later adopted again by a musician, a pianist who sexually molested him and lived to regret it by having his fingers severed one at a time.
After escaping his foster-father, Nathan was taken in by a new family until their aspiring super model daughter accused him of rape and he went to Milburn to learn about the power of choices from Dr. Pendelton.
Tom and an army of cops raid the last known address of Mr. Jones. They discover a perfectly unharmed pug and the typical accoutrements of an Evil Lair: jugs of sulfuric acid made into a demented IV drip, something bloody and shapeless in the cellar bathtub, wires and devices everywhere, and the stench of death. Buffalo Bill would approve.
In a back room, the cops find a massive photo collage of Fiona and Tom throughout the years and pictures of his wife.
Then something very bad happens.
Left alone while the raid commences, Fiona begins chatting with Nathan online. The killer reveals that he knows the secret of why Fiona’s mother died and he wants to share it. He invites her come to Milburn alone. Before you can say “It’s a TRAAAAP!” Fiona is on her way.
At least she won’t get caught off guard and then be faced with some gut wrenching choice. Or wait, plot twist! Maybe both of those things WILL happen. Since Fiona is either really stupid or quite intrepid, she does a lot of really dumb horror movie things in the finale, and we learn the very unsurprising true catalyst of Nathan’s murderous obsession with choices.
Also, his face is pretty effed up.
I thought it was unnecessary that Nathan was hideously disfigured, since the character is really more of a psychological monster than a physical one. He’s like a less mechanically adept version of Jigsaw from the “Saw” films in that Nathan seeks to reveal the moral or wicked natures of his victims through psychological torture and the threat of loss.
Despite the occasional predictable moment, there a couple of interesting departures from the Madman V’s Purehearted Heroine routine and a fairly downbeat, mean-spirited ending for the genre.