IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Olivia and five friends go on a trip to Rosarito, Mexico where they encounter an acquaitance called Ronnie and also a man who calls himself Carter who invites them for drinks at an abandoned mission. There, he initiates a game of truth or dare which ends when Carter reveals that he tricked them to go there so they can take his place in the supernatural game of [what else?] Truth or Dare, a game that will follow them wherever they go and they must not refuse it. Sometime after everyone returns from Mexico, Ronnie dies when he fails to complete a dare. Olivia is convinced that Carter was telling the truth, but the others don’t believe her….
Well, it’s certainly a good concept: a game of Truth Or Dare where if anyone tells a lie or refuses a dare, they die. It’s best to answer ‘Truth’ because ‘Dare’ can involve having to kill someone, though ‘Truth’ can involve revealing secrets about the characters. You can only say ‘Truth’ twice in a row, then it’s automatically ‘Dare’ and then someone dies. Sounds like it could make a really good, intense horror movie doesn’t it? Well Blumhouse’s latest offering Truth Or Dare, which is only slightly less idiotic and poorly put together than last year’s Wish Upon, is definitely not that movie. Maybe they shouldn’t have given the job of director and co-screenwriter to Jeff Wadlow [Kick-Ass 2, Never Back Down, Cry Wolf] who has a history of botching promising projects and has yet to helm or script anything that’s much good. Truth Or Dare is almost an object lesson in how to royally cock up something that had considerable potential, sunk almost right from the offset by some bizarre decisions such as making nearly all the characters into unpleasant people who treat each other like garbage. The writing is often truly lousy throughout, full of inconsistencies and leaving the limited actors and actresses to struggle like hell with what they’ve been given, while the thing certainly isn’t scary unless you consider the repeated use of possessed people showing off unnaturally large smiles in what resembles a tablet photo manipulation app for kids to be the height of terror. The only major factor that it really has going for it are some reasonably well staged set pieces, Wadlow almost managing to rise to the occasion for these bits, though of course the ‘PG-13’ rating means that we don’t get to experience fully the joy of seeing these irritating people die in creative ways, and, while I don’t think that graphic bloodshed is essential, in a horror film as crummy as this one it certainly would have helped.
After a decent opening scene in which a woman named Giselle Hammond chooses ‘Dare’ and uses lighter fluid and matches to set another woman alight, apologising to her as she burns to death, we meet our lovely young protagonists. They are Olivia Barron, her best friend Markie Cameron, Markie’s boyfriend Lucas Moreno, Penelope Amari and her boyfriend Tyson Curran, and Brad Chang. Penelope’s an alcoholic, Tyson is a drug dealing medical student, Brad is gay but afraid to tell his dad, and Markie is still grieving over the suicide of her father a year ago which, we seem to be told, is why she cheats on Lucas when he’s not around, though Lucas does have Olivia lusting after him. The fairly stock characters could still have been brought to life if they’d got some decent performers to play them, but instead all they give us is a cast who are mostly either indifferent or hysterical. Not a single one of them even faintly resembles a teenager either. After the opening scene of a woman named Giselle Hammond plRight at the beginning we see Markie showing what a great friend she is to Olivia by the way she gets her to come along on this trip. Olivia had planned to spend her vacation working, but Olivia lies on her friend’s ‘behalf’ and cancels it for her. Nice. This is only the beginning of a series of episodes in which people who allegedly like and even love each other act otherwise. In a Mexican bar they encounter Ronnie who could be the most unpleasant of the lot but at least he doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. Having maybe once had a ‘thing’ with Olivia, he pesters her until the mysterious Carter comes to her aid and gets them all to go to this old mission to play truth or dare, and this is actually quite a good scene, with people having to embarrass themselves and some simmering tension as some secrets come out.
It seems that Carter needs to pass something on, and this reveals itself when the others return home and begin to see the words TRUTH OR DARE all over the place and people with those stupid smiles on their faces. The first to die is Ronnie who’s asked to expose himself in a bar. He gets up on top of a pool table to do it but changes his mind, so he slips on a ball and falls to his death breaking his neck. This is of course recorded, but nobody seems bothered by his death, one character watching it on his phone repeatedly with an amused look on his face. Just as the horrid heroine of Wish Upon rarely seemed to give a damn about the direct consequences of her messing around with things she shouldn’t have, the protagonists here tend to react to each death with a shrug and then move on. These people seem almost emotionally dead already. If the writers had some intelligence then this idea could have been tweaked to becoming a comment on how desensitised modern youngsters are to terrible happenings, or something like that. Likewise, the way that characters change greatly from scene to scene could have been used to indicate that the game reveals people’s true selves, but on second thoughts that wouldn’t work because even characters who know nothing about the game change in this manner according to whichever idiotic happening requires them to.
A scene where somebody has to break another’s hand has some intensity to it, as does a drunken walk on a roof. The deaths are well handled enough that you still get a sense of, for example, somebody stabbing a pen into his eye before further impaling it into his head by headbutting a door, but a film like this, especially when it’s generally so poor, really needs the blood to properly flow. It might have helped me forgive, for example, the way that the script often forces its characters to narrate every darn move they make, yet backs off for showing some of their more interesting moments. Take Brad telling his father he’s gay. He being terrified to do so is mentioned to us several times so is clearly an important element of the story, but when the moment arrives we don’t even see it, the camera cutting away. In fact almost anything that would have given proceedings a faint air of reality is removed. Take the way that, after someone commits suicide with his friends directly outside, the next scene cuts to those same friends back inside one of their own homes talking things out, with no questioning by the police even though they were present at the time of death. And sleuthing is mostly restricted to Facebook and Google searches. I know this is just an unavoidable sign of the times, but it’s just so boring to watch despite Wadlow trying hard to give every scene some frantic energy.
The film is most interested in the continual revealing of secrets, and one wonders how on earth this lot, especially Olive and Markie, ever got to be friends in the first place. There’s an overriding theme of how dishonestly always causes problems, but it all becomes either petty or ludicrous, yet nobody involved with the production seems to be aware of how stupid it all is – which of course may make it funnier for some. However for me the whole thing was getting painful to watch way before Giselle came back into the story as someone who may just know what is going on, and then some slightly interesting back story was revealed – after which the film seemed to run on quite a few minutes further than it needed to. By then I was as lost at the ever-changing rules of the game as the screenwriters seemed to be and therefore found it hard to care – though the film almost redeems itself with an ending that may obviously set things up for a sequel [which I hope doesn’t happen unless they give it a decent director and writers] but which is almost genius in a way. Honestly, it’s really good.
Truth Or Dare does have its moments all right, but they’re surrounded by so much junk that the film isn’t really worth sitting through unless you really are easily pleased. I’m sure that there’ll be worse horror films this year, but few that screw up such a great idea with such seeming relish.