Play Dead review – fake corpse and organ theft in thorax-cracking if implausible thriller

The US medical system proves a house of horrors in Patrick Lussier’s macabre and surprisingly effective thriller in which skint criminal forensics student Chloe (Bailee Madison) and brother TJ (Anthony Turpel) are on the verge of being evicted from their house, their dad’s life insurance having been invalidated because he killed himself. TJ and Chloe’s ex, Ross (Chris Lee), decide to steal the money the family needs, but the latter is gunned down during the robbery. When the siblings realise that Ross’s mobile phone, full of evidence that will incriminate TJ, is in police hands, Chloe has to find a way into the morgue where it has been logged.

If you can overcome the basic implausibility – that the two dudes would be daft enough to plan a heist on a phone, that Chloe would volunteer to inject propofol to “play dead” to gain entry, that the city employs coroners unable to tell anaesthetised people from dead ones – there’s plenty to appreciate in this rattling cat’n’mouse runaround. In fact the coroner (Jerry O’Connell) on duty is a bit too good at his job, running a lucrative sideline in organ theft on the side and justifying it in terms of social-engineering away society’s bottom feeders. As he tells Chloe, strapped to a gurney: “All that you are, all that you’ve done, is worth considerably less than the sum of your parts.”

Lussier, Wes Craven’s former editor, directs this thriller material with a fair amount of thorax-cracking gore, drifting close to grand guignol territory as the plot manages enough surges to keep our pulse up. Madison is a steadfast final girl, adding impressive spikes of frustration and rage to her performance. But Play Dead benefits most from O’Connell’s astute turn as the sharpest tailored killer since Patrick Bateman going about his business with a grim sang-froid and scarily controlled violence at the slab. It’s a terrible advert for organ donation but a compact and resourceful thriller.

  • Play Dead is available on the Icon Film Channel on 13 February and released in cinemas on 17 March.