SXSW 2017 – This Is Your Death (2017)
If the title of This Is Your Death sounds like a terrible reality show, that would be because it is. Giancarlo Esposito’s second feature as director attempts to satirise reality TV culture by having Josh Duhamel host a show in which people commit suicide for money. There’s slightly more nuance than that, but only just.
Duhamel is Adam Rogers, the disenchanted host of a dating show. A Yale drop-out (for noble reasons of course), he’s made for better things, as numerous characters attest. But instead he hosts a terrible TV show and probably would have continued to do so had one of the contestants not killed the man who spurned her and committed suicide live on air. Adam steps in to save another contestant, becoming a star in the process.
The furore created by the on-air killing naturally excites Famke Janssen’s ruthless executive. What happens next isn’t entirely clear because it makes no real sense. Adam goes from corporate hero, via a Network style breakdown on live TV, to the host of this new despicable show. His producer (Caitlin FitzGerald) also hates the idea yet no one takes much convincing to do it anyway.
The satire as the show progresses aims for savage but mostly ends up ridiculous. The suicide methods are overly elaborate and Adam’s moral reason for doing the show doesn’t hold up to anyone. There are also far too many sub-plots floating around in the background. Sarah Wayne Callies pops up as Adam’s ex-drug addict sister, and Esposito himself takes a prominent role as Mason Washington, a down on his luck janitor working two jobs and still falling behind on bills. His family, naturally, includes a disabled child who enters as a mini-reveal to draw attention to Mason’s plight. As if that isn’t enough, half-hearted sorties into office relationships, an FBI investigation and the line between meaningful TV and trash also feature.
All these problems could cripple a film, but they’re not even the worst crime committed by This Is Your Death. When attempting to slam our misery-obsessed disposable culture, it would be best to do so without resorting to the exact same tricks as the shows under assault. Mason in particular is used to pluck every heartstring in sight. He’s a one-dimensional sob-story with an oddly mean-spirited wife. None of the characters really get any depth, making it hard to care what they do. And if watching people die live on TV is so horrible, This Is Your Death should probably stop revelling in every suicide like an over-excited teenager.
Eventually the whole house of cards comes crumbling down, and it can’t happen quickly enough. This is a cheap and unpleasant film that fails to take apart its target because it becomes just like it, only nowhere near as competently executed.
Director: Giancarlo Esposito
Writers: Noah Pink (screenplay), Kenny Yakkel (screenplay)
Stars: Famke Janssen, Sarah Wayne Callies, Josh Duhamel
Runtime: 104 mins