Truth or Dare Film Review
A perverse, self-aware delight
Joining in with the uproarious laughter during my screening of Jeff Wadlow’s Truth or Dare, I was wondering what kind of audience response the movie intended. After all, laughter signifies enjoyment, but, produced by Blumhouse Productions—known for their horror franchise pictures—you’d expect that meant the movie, arguably supposed to be scary, were a colossal failure.
Although I wouldn’t say that. The movie is uncomfortably fast-paced, the characters are a herd of branded cows led to the killing floor and the screenplay (written by Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach and Wadlow) has a moral coding as confused as the violence is tame—but damn it if it doesn’t work. It combines the self-aware tropes of Scream (1997) and the earnest, genuinely bad horror movie fluff of something like the Sorority Row remake (2009). The result is a mish-mash of tones and tired clichés that delivers on its audience’s bloodthirsty expectations while giving them a plenty of unintended laughs.
Blumhouse movies are all based on a horror-inflected punchline. Supposedly, given the title ‘truth or dare’ before making the movie, Wadlow and co. wrote a script around that phrase. The resulting plot sells itself: a group of kids play a haunted game of truth or dare, where the danger is real. It’s an easy enough premise for one high-schooler to convince another, and it appeals to trash-horror fans who won’t stoop below something as mainstream as an M-rated Blumhouse picture. Their other punchline plots—a girl is murdered at the end of a day that repeats itself (Happy Death Day); a black guy visits his white girlfriend’s creepy parents (Get Out)—sell themselves just as easily. Jason Blum has found the ultimate horror-formula.
Each character in Truth or Dare is defined by their stereotype. Olivia (Lucy Hale) is ditching spring break to build houses in impoverished countries, while her party-girl best friend Markie (Violette Beane) wants her to ditch the humanitarian work and come party. In a move that seems almost psychopathically dishonest, Markie emails the humanitarian group as Olivia, claiming she has shingles and can’t come. Olivia basically smiles, shrugs, has a drink and they head off to Mexico.
All the way through, Sean Albertson’s editing has the phrenetic pace of a music video for a party anthem, while Wadlow is keen on switching between phone screens, overhead shots, swoops and closeups. The result is visually dizzying at first, but the editing barrels the story along at a pace that leaves you little time to think about it. Their spring break is summarised in a variety of wobbly camera phone montages and social media posts—a carrousal of millennial narcissism—until it stops on everyone’s last night.
Olivia is chatting with Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), while Markie hooks up with guys out of sight. Pretty soon Olivia, who has a crush on Lucas, is at the bar talking to suave Carter (Landon Liboiron) who convinces the group, which also includes another couple, Brad (Hayden Szeto), who’s defined by his homosexuality; Ronnie (Sam Lerner), a one-liner-spouting bit of murder fodder and coldly judgemental Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), who sells drug prescriptions to high schoolers.
If you’ve accepted that Olivia’s best friend would lie to her humanitarian group to get her to come drinking, or that the group would follow this mysterious Carter up to an abandoned church to play a game of truth or dare, then you’re likely to accept the rest of the gang’s ludicrous decisions that keep the deaths coming. Gradually we learn that, in true, American horror movie fashion, each character is punished through the truths or dares for their various indiscretions. Olivia has a secret she knows the game will reveal if she picks truth, so she keeps picking ‘dare’ instead. The dares are easily the most fun in the game. Markie has to break Olivia’s hand with a hammer (which leads to a hand injury that’s only once referred to for the duration of the movie), Sophie (Penelope Amari) has a drinking problem, so she has to walk around the edge of her roof and finish off a bottle of liquor and Brad, who only recently came out to his stoic policeman father, has to steal his dad’s gun and make him beg for his life. These scenes display such cynical contempt for their characters, you’d have to be morally opposed to them to criticise.
Truth or Dare is at its worst when it tries to involve the audience emotionally, because the soap opera plot stitched together with gruesome deaths of vapid millennials are what make it such a perverse delight. I would’ve liked an R18+ version that lingered on the violence, but I still got a few laughs—what’s the harm?
Feature image via dinosauriens.info