Synopsis – A harmless game of Truth or Dare among friends turns deadly when someone — or something — begins to punish those who tell a lie or refuse the dare.
My Take – While we wait for Hollywood filmmakers to come up with ideas to turn games like Ludo, UNO, Snakes & Ladders and Monopoly (which is actually being developed), into some form of big screen adaption, this latest offering from power house studio Blumhouse Productions, the company responsible for producing a bunch of low budgeted horror films, which ends up earning millions, despite critical lashing, and of course last year’ Oscar winning Get Out, offers another look at a simple child’s game as a device of death.
And if you have seen the trailer, then the film is exactly what you would expect it to be, i.e., silly, over the stop, clichéd yet fun. While the concept of a game turning deadly is something we have come to expect from such films, it was cool to see this dynamic stay consistent and the strategy for how to get around the traps set forth. While the film lacks the redeeming qualities found in most Blumhouse outings, and is never as charming as Happy Death Day nor socially aware as Get Out or the Purge films, it serves its purpose well, of being a PG-13 teen horror flick, whose goal is just to provide mindless and violent entertainment for a couple hours.
However, I do understand the negative feedback the film has been receiving mainly concerning the horror elements, about something which I too personally agree, director Jeff Wadlow, perhaps best known for writing/directing the disappointing Kick Ass 2, clearly lacks in skill. Yes, despite the clever spin on a familiar setup, the film just isn’t as creepy as one would expect it to be.
The story follows Olivia (Lucy Hale), who instead of doing her planned stint at Habitat, is coerced by her best friend Markie (Violett Beane) into to join her, her boyfriend/secret crush, Lucas (Tyler Posen), and their three other friends, the binge drinker, Penelope (Sophia Ali), her arrogant douche boyfriend, Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), and the nice guy, Brad (Hayden Szeto), on a trip to Mexico to celebrate their last spring break before they graduate and go their separate ways.
On the last night of all the partying and drinking, Olivia runs into their college douche Ronnie (Sam Lerner), at a Tijuana bar, who before getting too handsy, is rescued by a handsome stranger Carter (Landon Liboiron), who invites the group back to an abandoned convent for some fun. Once the drinking begins, Carter admits that he lured them there under false pretenses to play the game of Truth or Dare, and urges them to continue playing, and escapes. While the game starts, so does the chaos which follows the group back to their hometown, releasing all their deepest and darkest secrets. The rules are quite simple, tell the truth or die, do the dare, or die and no one gets out alive if you don’t play by the rules.
Admittedly, the concept of a horror film built around a game is a bit silly (for example the 2014 film Ouija), and while the film seems heavily inspired by The Ring, It Follows and Final Destination, director Jeff Wadlow offers enough twists to keep the film from becoming predictable, which makes for a refreshing turn on the genre, and with a touch of teen drama and effective editing, the film brings a real sense of discomfort to modern horror. It’s unsurprisingly in the first camp – but it’s entertaining nevertheless.
While the truths and dares aren’t exactly seen coming a mile off, they tend to become apparent shortly before they’re revealed. They’re neither overly predictable nor shocking, and in some cases that balance is rewarding. There are also a few somewhat random ones in there to keep it interesting, making for some nail-biting instances. It’s no surprise that the film plays with the idea of honesty, and while it may be the obvious play for everyone to keep choosing truth, the film deals with that potential issue appropriately. You can always give a Blumhouse film credit for almost being able to predict a viewer’s expectations and flip them on their head.
There are several elements I like about the film, mainly it’s overall entertaining and keeps a steady pace from start to finish. Horror films are a mixed bag of either being too slow or too fast, fortunately this is one of those that seems to hit just the right speed to allow for everything to pan out as it should be. I really appreciated the brisk pace brought about by the pressure of the game, adding some slight edge and mystery as to when the next challenge would arise. Some of the quests are interesting and several characters die under spectacular circumstances. The background story behind the game is intriguing and adds a creepy atmosphere.
The film’s resolution took me by surprise as it is rather unusual and worth being discussed. The message being honest with your friends and family and to trust one another in any circumstance. Like here, Olivia and her friends are torn apart towards the beginning of the film, due to their belief about whether or not the game was real, but once their eyes are opened, they work together in hopes of beating the game and surviving. The film took a little time to allow its characters to semi-flesh out their issues and dive a little deeper than their superficial looks. If you pay close attention, you’ll realize that the film is centered on Markie, Olivia’s friend.
There have been conflicts in the past, as well as the present, which influence their friendship. Now, each of them has to decide whose side they choose, or rather – what they choose -‘Truth or dare’. Through their debates, we get to know both characters. Markie is like an open book who is straightforward and holds nothing back, while Olivia is the exact opposite. She hides a piece of very important information which will reshape and redefine their friendship. She decides to leave it as it is until the game forces her to do otherwise. Details and moments given in the first few minutes of the film come back to roost later on, and the film doesn’t hesitate to take these characters, once established, to the darkest possible corners of their own existence.
Well, while still being PG-13 friendly, of course. The best example of this comes from Markie, who has been struggling with her father’s suicide, and is haunted by her memories of him — or, more accurately, a single memory of him that she keeps on her iPhone that we see a ton. This tragedy informs every aspect of her character, and is dug in on throughout the store, even if it ultimately may lack cathartic value given the anti-climactic ending. Yes, the limited experience of both director, Jeff Wadlow, and his three fellow screenwriters, Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, and Christopher Roach, does show at times, in clunky dialogues that end up producing unintentional laughs, and the obvious lack of scares. Unlike most PG-13 horror films, director Wadlow doesn’t use the atmosphere or the suspense or the tension, to create any form of terror, and instead resorts to a few jump scares, which aren’t as creepy as one would expect.
From neck-snapping to eye-stabbing to hand-breaking, director Wadlow certainly doesn’t skimp on the gore, but it’s more disgusting than scary. The prologue is a prime example of this; a victim of the curse stops at a gas station to buy some cigarettes and hopefully time. A dare is made to set a patron on fire; instead of making it a slow burn, a rush to the payoff is made, leaving us unsatisfying to say the least. An almost laughable aspect of the film is the ridiculously creepy smile that each player is faced with when their turn in the game rolls around. Though disturbing at first, it quickly becomes a warning sign to the viewer – another cringe-inducing death is on the horizon.
While, some of the kills in this film are intense bouts of our leads racing against the clock to stop the game’s effects, these kills are the more engaging, changing the odds to a more even split on their survival, while, others, are merely cheap wrap ups that the teenage group seem to drink up, which is a little disappointing at not delivering on the potential that was there. Perhaps for the shorter attention span of the modern age, but still could have been better than what was presented.
However, the young cast filled with popular TV actors delivers good performances. Led by Lucy Hale, the lead star of Pretty Little Liars and Life Sentence, does her best to make us care about her character and the responsibility she feels for endangering her friends. Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey also tries is best here, so does The Flash actress Violett Beane. The rest of the cast including Hayden Szeto, Nolan Gerard Funk, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron and Sam Lerner are good too. On the whole, ‘Truth or Dare’ is an entertaining yet superficial horror film led down by its execution and lack of scares.
Directed – Jeff Wadlow
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 100 minutes