Death Count (2022)

Director: Michael Su

Running Time: 81 Minutes

Starring: Costas Mandylor, Michael Madsen, Sarah French, Devanny Pinn, Robert LaSardo

Awakening chained-up and injured, Rachel (Sarah French) finds herself in an unfamiliar room containing a box of various items, and a screen showing other prisoners in separate rooms. Answers begin arriving when a masked figure appears on-screen, calling himself the Warden (Costas Mandylor). He shares that the prisoner's survival depends on what they're willing to sacrifice, and they must get the most likes from a watching audience through painful methods.

Adapting a screenplay by Rolfe Kanefsky and Michael Merino, what director Michael Su has crafted resembles a Saw sequel for the social-media age. From the explosives located in the prisoner's heads, to the punishments if they don't co-operate, the deaths are delivered courtesy of effects ranging from "not-bad" to "distracting". What's most impactful are the more relatable injuries, as a fingernail-related one proves more effective than an elaborate one involving mustard gas. Even more painful is the dialogue, sincerely delivering such lines as "For someone who cleans for a living, you have a dirty mouth".

As the prisoners wonder the reason for their captivity, the characters are left to reckon with their complicity in a past tragedy, and question how far one must go to make things right. In a film with many characters who are difficult to care about, Sarah French delivers serviceable work in the lead role. Orchestrating their misery is the mysterious Warden, an interesting figure cloaked in a supervillain guise with grand ideas about his role, brought alive by a passable performance.

Running parallel is a police investigation led by Michael Madsen's wisecracking Detective Casey. Whether he's surrounded by co-workers in fits of laughter or complaining about the internet with his partner, his purpose appears to be reacting instead of driving the plot in meaningful ways. As the ending sets up a follow-up, one wishes more was done to make this cat-and-mouse game feel captivating. More time felt devoted to the mystery's underwhelming resolution, complete with a key performance feeling too cartoonish, and this doesn't feel enticing enough to continue the story on.

Death Count is available on Digital Download now in North America