Film

Review: Desperate to Scare, Truth or Dare Loses at Its Own Game

You should fully expect to see “from the producers who brought you Get Out” in front of a lot of not-nearly-as-good horror films over the next year or two, beginning with Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, featuring a chorus line of 20-somethings, each lining up to get killed or nearly killed thanks to a supernaturally supervised game that wants all of the players dead. And if the youngsters figure out a way to beat or trick the demon controlling the game, the film simply makes up a new rule because, god forbid we don’t toss a few more dead bodies on the heap.

Truth or Dare

Image courtesy of Blumhouse

As with many such teenage or college-age horror films, most of the soon-to-be victims are assholes, simply put. In the cast of Trust or Dare, these college friends take a trip from their California institute of higher learning across the border into Mexico where they drink, dance and generally treat a foreign country like garbage.

The film centers on Olivia (played by Lucy Hale from “Pretty Little Liars”), the one good person in the group of seniors and the one most reluctant to go at all because she had signed up for Habitat for Humanity for spring break until her best friend Markie (Violett Beane) “unsigns” her so they can spend their last break together. Markie’s biggest problem is that she likes to hook up with lots of guys when she parties, which wouldn’t be an issue except for her boyfriend, Lucas (Tyler Posey), on whom Olivia has something of a crush.

The rest of the group consists of a pre-med student (Nolan Gerard Funk) who deals prescription drugs to classmates; his girlfriend and raging drunk (Sophia Ali); a closeted gay son (Hayden Szeto) of a conservative cop; and a dude-bro (Sam Lerner), who is a clear candidate for being killed early.

In Mexico, the group meets Carter (Landon Liboiron), who seems cool and takes them to an isolated place in an abandoned church where he suggests they play Truth or Dare. But once they’ve gone through a full rotation of all the friends, Carter reveals that they now have to play by a new set of rules: if you don’t tell the truth or go through with the dare, you die; and if you don’t pick one or the other, you die. Other rules are added later, but I don’t want to deny you that frustration of having the rules changed for no reason other than plot necessity.

Directed by Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf, Kick-Ass 2), Truth or Dare is basically a watered-down version of the far superior Final Destination movies—you know one way or another, whatever is controlling this game is going to kill you and everyone you’re playing with. At first, the being in power thinks of creative ways to put people in peril without actually saying “Kill this person” or “Kill yourself.” I especially like when the drunk girl is made to walk around the perimeter of the roof of the house they all share while drinking a bottle of some clear liquid that is making her more drunk by the second. They way the friends attempt to keep her from dying without stopping her from carrying out the dare is remarkably creative yet simple. But later, the creativity ends, and “Shoot her” is the dare. Yawn!

Almost worse than the game is the students’ attempt to figure out where this cursed game came from and how to stop it, which puts them in search of Carter, someone else he played with, and puts them on the road back to Mexico and that abandoned church, to go through an exceedingly overwrought ritual that they don’t even know for sure will work. I’m certainly not one to say that you can’t make an effective horror movie with a PG-13 rating (case in point: last week’s masterwork A Quiet Place), but Truth or Dare could have used a bit more intensity and blood to really make the stakes feel real. As it is, it feels tempered and edited so that younger viewers can buy tickets; it reeks of desperation, to be honest.

Nearly all of the moments in which I jumped were because of jump scares as something non-threatening, which after a while just becomes tiresome. By the end, I was bored, disinterested and waiting eagerly for all of these half-baked characters to die or figure a way out of the cycle of truth-ing and daring.

After saying all of that, I do like the way the film actually ends. It’s genuinely unexpected, clever, and if the rest of the movie had been even half as interesting, I’d be praising it to the stars. Instead, we get one character who is hurt by other people (emotionally), storms out of the house, only to return to the house ready to forgive, and is again hurt and runs out again and again and again. It’s exhausting, and so is nearly everything about Truth or Dare. I predict a sequel, but one can always dare someone not to make it.

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