13 Apr REVIEW – ‘Truth or Dare’
After last year’s game-changing horror flick Get Out, Blumhouse Productions now faces the unenviable position of attempting to match the style, wit, and class of this dazzling and Oscar-winning masterpiece. It’s unlikely anything ever will, and their latest offering, Truth or Dare, is so far away from Jordan Peele’s stellar work, it’s almost unfathomable to comprehend they share a production house. Even at its worst, the horror genre can still provide some scares, some thrills, and some bloody gore. Truth or Dare offers none of these things, in what can only be described as potentially the worst wide-release film of 2018. Yes, it’s that bad.
The film’s premise is actually quite interesting and clever, even if it does elicit strong comparisons to the far-superior It Follows. The “final girl” of this piece is college student Olivia (Lucy Hale), a minor YouTube celebrity (the film’s first of many obligatory social media references) who’s planning to spend her final spring break volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. But her gal-pal Markie (Violett Beane) is desperate for one final raucous week of partying in Tijuana before life gets totz serious. Abandoning her charitable plans (how charming), Olivia agrees to tag along to Mexico with her BFF, Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), who Olivia may or may not have a crush on, and several other disposable friends I’ve already forgotten the names of.
From here, we’re treated to a Snapchat montage (including emojis and #SOEXCITED text overlays) of the group’s exploits in the Mexican party town. They wear sombreros and Mexican wrestling masks. They harass the locals. They drink too much tequila. They throw up on a beach. All the things which make you rather comfortable with knowing they’ll likely all be dead fairly soon. On their final night in Tijuana, Olivia meets the mysterious Carter (Landon Liboiron), who, after the local bars close up for the night, invites the group to join him on a trek somewhere special. That ends up being a creepy abandoned monastery in the middle of absolutely nowhere. But sure. Let’s all go party inside with the total stranger we just met. Makes sense.
As the evening winds down, Carter suggests they play Truth or Dare, a party game no one plays after the age of 11. As each member of the group joins the fun, either blurting out some uncomfortable truths (OMG! Olivia does totally like Lucas!) or partaking in some stupid dares (Lucas is made to streak naked around the room, which, unfortunately, we do not see), Carter blurts out that he’s “okay with strangers dying, if I get to live” and quickly exits. When confronted by Olivia, he reveals the game is “real” and has deadly consequences. Refuse to tell the truth or do the dare, and you die. Bummer.
Heading home, and thinking nothing of Carter’s eerie exhortation, Olivia soon realises he was, uh oh, telling the truth. One afternoon, she’s railroaded by a library of classmates cornering her, demanding she choose “truth or dare” while displaying a twisted smile ripped straight out of Soundgarden’s classic 1994 video clip for “Black Hole Sun” or the fatal results of The Joker’s “Smylex” poison in Batman. But, naturally, Olivia describes it as comparable to “a messed-up Snapchat filter” because that reference is much more hip. Yes, I’m old. I get it. Taking the seemingly easy option, Olivia chooses truth but is forced to announce to the library that Markie is actually cheating on Lucas. Awkward!
From here, the game gets much more complicated and potentially deadly, as the group of friends are made to reveal far more uncomfortable truths or complete more twisted and dangerous dares. Survive your turn, and the game moves on to the next player. Or, more accurately, the next victim. But fail to complete your turn, and the demon enacts some forced suicide. As the game continues to loop back around, and the group begins to dwindle in numbers, it’s up to Olivia to solve the demonic origins of the game and discover how to end it before there are no players left.
This all sounds like a wonderfully promising concept, with potentially sensationalised Final Destination-style results. It’s the sole reason I bothered seeing this claptrap. An early scene featuring one of the group’s more insufferable characters and involving a dare atop a pool table showed great promise of unsettling things to come. Unfortunately, it completely fails to build on this sequence, instead delivering a series of dull and pointless dares and fairly benign death scenes (a handful of characters die from a single gunshot), which provide no thrills or suspense whatsoever. Or all that much gore and blood, a horror movie staple. For some unconscionable reason, this film is rated PG-13, meaning its entirely devoid of what audiences expect from something like this.
Another horror ideal is the notion of the “final girl” i.e. the female protagonist who we know will be the last one standing and the one we cheer for. Think Sidney Prescott in Scream or Laurie Strode in Halloween. Olivia is branded with this role, but she’s so horrendously unlikable as a character, you hardly care if she’ll make it to the end. It also doesn’t help that Hale has seemingly forgotten how to act. The same goes for the rest of the cast, mostly made up of that guy or this girl from that teen-orientated TV show. Every character is genuinely abhorrent, even the ones we’re meant to connect with. The only shining light (and the singular reason this film gets one star) is Hayden Szeto as Brad, the film’s token gay character. Brad is actually quite charming and interesting, but, as with most gay characters, he’s terribly underused. More offensive is the frustrating and clumsy way his character arc is handled.
There’s an attempt at some dramatic tension in Brad’s fear of coming out to his homophobic father. And, you guessed it, the game naturally forces him to do just that. But for some inexplicable reason, just as Brad begins to have this very painful conversation, the camera cuts away. Later, Brad rejoins his friends, cooing about how well the whole thing went. Why bother setting something like this up to then rob the audience of actually experiencing this moment? Was this cut in post-production? Or was this always the plan in the screenplay? The entire moment makes zero sense. Even more frustrating is how jarringly quickly the camera cuts away when Brad goes to kiss a random dude in Tijuana. But the film has no issue showing us the tonsil hockey going on with the straight members of the group. Honestly, why place a gay character in your film if you’re going to treat him with such bizarre disdain?
Even worse is the “painful truth” Olivia is keeping from Markie about the recent suicide of her father. The film constantly refers to this as a point of contention between the two supposedly close friends. But the ultimate reveal is utter garbage, especially how the screenplay chooses Markie to respond to the eventual revelation. There’s a very clear reaction any sane person would take to hearing something rather horrible about their father, and the film takes the complete opposite route. The remaining truths the game forces each player to share are equally pointless and imbecile, particularly when you care so little about these mind-numbingly vapid characters.
It’s also painfully obvious how little these characters even care about each other. The film attempts to establish them as a tight-knit gang of schoolmates. However, as each one is dispatched, the total lack of regard they show over a close friend’s unexpected death is downright baffling. After each character meets their doom, the remaining players seem far more concerned with understanding the game’s next move than grieving over the loss of a beloved pal. How can you expect an audience to give two hoots about these people when they themselves show total apathy for one another?
Truth or Dare is an entirely flat, hollow, and pointless piece of tripe. It’s overloaded with lazy jump-scares which are so horrendously predictable, you’ll never once be even remotely scared. Or even slightly entertained. It’s the closest I’ve come in years to leaving a cinema before a film is over. There is nothing to see here but a waste of a great premise. It’s easily the worst film of the year, so far. And it’ll be hard to top. It’s a film that will leave you frustrated, annoyed, and angry. Do yourself a favour and see A Quiet Place instead. Or just go watch some paint dry. You’ll have a better time with either option.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Landon Liboiron
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Screenplay: Michael Reisz, Jillian Jacobs, Chris Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Story: Michael Reisz
Producer: Jason Blum, Couper Samuelson
Cinematography: Jacques Jouffret
Production Design: Melanie Jones
Music: Matthew Margeson
Editor: Sean Albertson
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: 12th April 2018 (Australia)