Strapped for cash, Anna (Virginia Gardner) joins a small group of college students taking part in a clinical drug trail. The young volunteers, including Den (Nathan Kress) a handsome nice guy who captures Anna's attention, are confined to an isolated facility beset by snowstorm. Under the close supervision of creepy Doctor Jerrems (William Mapother) half the group are dosed with A9913, a mind-altering drug designed to retrieve happy memories and provide "instant access to unlimited joy." Unfortunately Anna experiences an unexpected side-effect when she starts having terrifying visions of the other volunteers' horrific deaths. As the group scramble to escape their fate they discover a killer in their midst who seems to be one step ahead of their efforts to survive.
Cross Flatliners (1990) with I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and you get Tell Me How I Die, a high-concept thriller aimed at the young adult audience. That is certainly evident from the cast that includes onetime tween sitcom heartthrob Nathan Kress and YouTube star Ryan Higa. The latter essays the token obnoxiously unfunny comic relief character who wisecracks like a sociopath while people die and deciphers the plot's sci-fi angle because he "watches a lot of Doctor Who." Despite the odd cheesy moment or line of dialogue Tell Me How I Die is solidly crafted by first-time feature director D.J. Viola, a veteran of music videos and MTV documentaries. Unlike a surprisingly large amount of horror-thrillers the script, co-written by Viola with James Hibberd and Rob Warren Thomas, has the good sense to craft likable leads. Both well played by the charismatic Kress and Virginia Gardner, star of the excellent Marvel Comics-inspired Hulu show Runaways and David Gordon Green's new version of Halloween (2018).
The film develops its premise premonition of death angle in fairly compelling fashion, slowly segueing from early lighthearted, character-building moments to more grueling suspense. After a solid build-up the second act is a little disappointing, sidelining the more promising psychic drug angle for standard slasher antics as a hooded killers bumps off the photogenic cast one by one. In gruesome though not overly graphic fashion. One murder set-piece involving barb wire is lifted straight from Suspiria (1977) and in this context makes even less sense. Skewed heavily towards teens, it is too bland to really rattle the nerves of seasoned horror fans but holds viewers' attention and keeps them guessing. Its most interesting idea is having both killer and heroine share the same precognitive ability which sets up a neat final fight scene with each able to anticipate the other's moves.
While the script does not delve into a truly substantial metaphysical debate about changing one's fate it does raise a few promising questions. Such as whether the killer controls his visions or are they controlling him? And whether a murder is likely to occur without Anna there to witness it? Alas, Viola leaves these as tantalizing loose threads, teasing viewer with dual endings before opting for something annoyingly inconclusive.