Truth or Dare
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Written by: Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk, Landon Liboiron, Sam Lerner
With the exception of some creative efforts from a few intelligent talents behind the camera, it is all but an inevitability that the opening of a mainstream movie will be filled to the brim with character introduction and exposition. If you’re four-leaf clover lucky, such trappings will be concise and even insightful. Likelier than not, though, you’ll be in for run-of-the-mill screenwriting that sleepwalks you from point A to point B. And if you are really out of luck, you’ll have to endure the opening fifteen minutes or so of Truth or Dare.
I hadn’t felt so numbingly and thoroughly fed up with what I was watching on screen in a really long time, so long I don’t think it has happened since Battle Los Angeles back in 2011 (it still tops in my personal list of all-time worst movie openings). During those moments disguised as eons we meet Lucy Hale and her gang (I sure as hell am not about to waste a millisecond looking up the cannon fodder’s names) as she is first convinced to join them for Spring Break down in Mexico and then engage in all sorts of title credit sequence shenanigans. Although some of the inane dialogue will prove to be of interest eventually, this introduction is barely anything more than a parade of cliched college kid stereotypes doing their thing: the raucuous, perennially horny loudmouth, the slutty best friend, her leading man boyfriend who may or may not have a thing for goody two shoes Hale (he does), the token asian gay guy, the snob med school hopeful and his alcoholic girlfriend. All of them are here. And if that feels like one big cliche – I felt it was an unbearably large number of Casting Central dwellers – it is because there is a whole lot of killing coming and, hence, a lot of fresh meat needed.
It is here that Truth or Dare actually (unexpectedly, joyfully) becomes a success. There have always been two main types of horror movies: the ones that actually try to scare you and the ones that take you on a thrill ride where fun is the operative word and Jeff Wadlow’s fifth feature belongs firmly to this latter category. Once our beloved group of soon-to-be victims are led by a fellow American fratboy to an abandoned mission atop a lugubrious hill to play the titular entertainment, the pace doesn’t let up for one single second. Owing much of its tone to the Final Destination, The Grudge and The Ring franchises (alas, not due to convoluted, Rube Goldbergian deaths but rather somewhat similar mythologies) the story offers a sometimes gross, sometimes funny, always welcome assortment of ways to die. Because, contrary to what the title might lead you to believe, that is the one and only ultimate outcome. Tell the truth, do the dare, those are the rules to survive but very quickly it becomes apparent that the game is rigged.
Despite a discouraging list of four writers, the screenplay mostly comes off as surprisingly witty (enough to keep me from delving into the plot too deeply since it would take away from the fun) and it faces its characters with conundrums that, while keeping things breezy and on the right side of campy, would give most people pause. One of them is dared to confess to his hardened cop (thus armed) dad his homosexuality (or else, always or else), another is asked an extremely sensitive question during a key school interview and Hale stubbornly keeps choosing “dare” since she doesn’t want to be forced to answer a specific question regarding the suicide of her best friend’s dad in front of her.
Visually and stylistically there is really nothing special at all in Wadlow’s directing (Kick-Ass 2‘s universe would have been his best chance to stake his claim to a visualist’s label, I feel) but the casualties and injuries remain consistently flinch-inducing and, again, fun enough for me to care at all. This is a movie where you enjoy watching these people die (whether this is the filmmakers intention or not I don’t know and it doesn’t matter at all) and that alone should mostly tell you what to expect. If, nearing the end, you genuinely start caring (at least a little), it is merely due to the longer period of time spent with the survivors and nothing else.
When the big finale arrives and delivers what is the film’s most absurdly nonsensical and satisfying plot point you’ll either be totally onboard for a new franchise from Blumhouse or you will have long since checked out (most likely a victim of the unforgivable introduction). Stick it out is my advice and you’ll probably have as much of an enjoyable time at the movies as I did. — Eloy Ricardo Balderas Salazar