The latest microbudget spook-em-up from Blumhouse Productions is long on dares and short on scares.
Hoping to cash in on the success of the Ouija film series, Blumhouse Productions (Get Out, The Purge, The Shallows) has given us Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, the latest in a trend of horror movies based on games middle schoolers play at a sleepover.
The concept, as with a lot of Blumhouse’s microbudget horror joints, remains simple: Truth or Dare follows a group of college students who are drawn into a deadly version of the titular game. The cast is replete with the stereotypes of a teen horror movie: Olivia (Lucy Hale), the goody-two shoes heroine; Olivia’s BFF Markie (Violett Beane); Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), who Olivia harbors a crush over; their friend Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), a pre-med student who sells illicit scripts to other students from his parents’ prescription pad; Tyson’s girlfriend Penelope (Sophia Ali), who apparently has a drinking problem; Brad (Hayden Szeto), a closeted gay man; and rounding out the group is Ronnie (Sam Lerner), your run of the mill horny frat-bro.
Equally cliché is the setup: The group basically forces Olivia to go to Mexico for spring break, rather than Olivia going to work on Habitat for Humanity. On their final night on vacation, Olivia is charmed by a handsome stranger, Carter, who convinces Olivia to bring her friends to a secluded monastery to play a game of truth or dare. The night ends with Carter letting the group know that the game is real and will kill them if they don’t tell the truth or complete the dare. Upon returning to the US, the group hallucinates eerily smiling figures asking them “truth or dare”; if they fail to tell the truth or complete a dare, they become possessed and commit suicide.
Despite the rather by-the-numbers characters and setup, Truth or Dare is overall a competent teen thriller. The acting, while nothing spectacular, is serviceable in general, and Hale and Beane, who have the majority of screen time, offer some decent performances. The film is competently shot and edited. While the cinematography isn’t particularly jaw-dropping, it doesn’t suffer from the usual problems of overt color correction or artificial graininess.
The meat of the film, though, is the suspense of whatever dare might come next; that said, most of the “dares” for our main characters end up being toothless. Compared to other people who are cursed by the game, the protagonists are saddled with some lame dares – compare coming out of the closet to setting another person on fire. The film strains hard to give the characters some emotional depth, deriving suspense from the truth or dare activities that focus on revealing dark secrets.
The love triangle between Olivia, Markie and Lucas is the topic of most of the truths/dares (making Olivia tell the truth in public about Markie’s infidelity and daring Olivia to sleep with Lucas). Unfortunately, the film attempts to do this to most of the characters; with such a large ensemble cast, there is no way to give them all enough time to resonate. For example, Brad’s father is set up to be a huge homophobe (in classic tell-not-show fashion), but when Brad is dared to come out to his father, it’s done off screen, Brad appearing shortly afterward as if 5 minutes had passed.
The lack of emotional investment in the characters isn’t helped by the fact the characters don’t seem particularly invested in each other. When one character dies, the rest seem far too nonchalant about their comrade’s demise, barely expressing any emotional outburst even when the death happens right in front of them. The script seems as though it was written to primarily focus on Olivia/Markie/Lucas, with the other friends being sacrificial window dressing to the thrills. By attempting to build them up, the film makes their dispensable nature even more apparent.
Truth or Dare also suffers from many of the same plot holes that affect other “supernatural curse” movies: gaping plot holes in how the rules are applied and spread. That said, the film has multiple plants and pay offs throughout, which I did find to be fairly rewarding, especially the twist ending. The film drags in the middle when it attempts to build more depth to the secondary characters, but the ending was genuinely suspenseful.
While Truth or Dare is no masterpiece, it definitely works for those who are fans of the genre, offering an enticing mix of The Ring and Final Destination. While not extreme enough to be “campy,” this is the type of movie to see with your friends to feed off each other’s fears and laughter. There are moments of levity, and the Snapchat-esque filters applied to the faces of people possessed end up eliciting more laughs than scares. As for gore, there’s not much; the film’s rated PG-13, after all. Still, sometimes the greatest scares come more from suspense than splatter.
If Truth or Dare proves to be financially successful, one wonders what sleepover game will be made into a film next. Perhaps a homicidal game of spin the bottle? Or maybe a group of teens will be haunted by a fiend that puts their hands in warm water while they’re sleeping. Let’s hope Blumhouse continues these entries in the Night Trap Cinematic Universe, so we can find out.
Truth or Dare hits theaters Friday, April 13th.