Starring Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Sophia Taylor Ali. Directed by Jess Wadlow.
Blumhouse Productions is a strange entity. Their mould thus far has been making low budget films, that more than manage to recoup their budget, and give their directors total control.
In Truth or Dare, Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) writes and directs this story of high school students that – having enjoyed some time in spring breaking hotspot Mexico – are subjected to a demonic game of Truth or Dare.
Wadlow’s last effort was a massive disappointment to fans of the anarchic joy that was the original. Unfortunately, with this horror film, unfortunately, he seems not to have learnt from his mistakes. Truth or Dare is a prime example of what can happen when a great idea is not worked on by people with visions. It’s a problem that could only be avoided if the writers weren’t lazy in their choice of characters.
The characters are a melting pot of horror movie cliches. Lucy Hale (best known for Pretty Little Liars) is Olivia, the charity working blogger. She’s the innocent virginal one who wants to spend her spring break doing charitable things. But her friend Markie (Violett Beane) is the slutty one who wants to party. Mark is dating Lucas (Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey) who might have feelings for Olivia. Nolan Gerard Funk and Sophia Ali are Tyson and Penelope a couple and friends with the group – Tyson is a dick and something of a petty criminal, selling illegal prescriptions, and Penelope is a good-natured person. Finally, there’s Hayden Szeto as gay and proud – but not out to his homophobic cop dad – Brad Chang. There’s also a tag along dickhead, played by Sam Lerner.
The film offers very little in its characters, and it’s not ashamed to get to the game that sets off the film. But even so, the explanation of the game feels a little sub-It Follows. There’s little here that works as a metaphor. The dares do nothing to expose much about the characters and the truth is all mainly by the numbers stuff. The closest it gets to digging deeper into its thumb sketch characters is a truth that involves Chang coming out to his father.
The film also has an issue with overly explaining it’s rules and adding to them so it becomes clear this is less about the interactions between teens and more about waiting for the next grizzly death. On that front the film also fails. The trailer gives away the best death which is Sam Lerner slipping on a snooker ball and breaking his neck violently.
Even so, a smarter director would have come up with ways to turn these into metaphors. In the hands of a Wes Craven or George A Romero there could have been real wit and substance to the film. It would have also probably helped when it comes to explaining the game and why it kills. In a film like It Follows there is no explanation and it helps add to the fear, when the explanation comes (which is also vaguely racist) it feels like a cop-out.
The film it resembles most is Nerve, the conspiracy thriller with Emma Roberts and Dave Franco, a film that got the dare bit and played it like a modern day Alan J. Pakula movie. Here the concept is sort of wasted on dares that aren’t all that scary or revolting, and are just kind of silly. There is nothing in this film to match the tension of someone walking across a ladder at a great height, for example.
Even so, there are positives; the video footage that opens the film is well done and looks like the cast really did have chemistry even if the scripted parts don’t work very well. Lucy Hale is very good in the central role, making Olivia not just another in a long line of final girls, but someone in whom we can invest our emotions. There is also a nice element to the grins that the possessed game players have – production cited Willem Dafoe as an influence, but fail to mention the warped grin of Apex Twin. In doing so they also fail to be half as scary as Aphex Twin’s music video for ‘Come to Daddy’, which is pure horror.
The film’s resolution offers an interesting solution to the problem of the unending cycle of truths and dares, though it still offers a plot hole. Even so, there is a good performance in there among the loud bangs that serve no real reason. It might be a fun Netflix & Chill flick, but to pay to see it in a cinema? Truth is, that’s a dare you should avoid.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.