The horror genre has come into its own as a dominant genre of the movie business, with 2018 having just crowned its first big horror hit of the year with A Quiet Place. Now, on the heels of that film comes Truth or Dare, a high-concept horror flick that hopes to build on the success of Blumhouse's fall season YA horror offering, Happy Death Day.
Truth or Dare's storyline follows a clique of college seniors as they embark on their final Spring Break trip down to Mexico. Do-gooder social activist Olivia (Lucy Hale) is reluctant to be on the trip, so when she's approached by a handsome guy at a party, she thinks things are turning around. That stranger leads Olivia, her best friend Markie (Violett Beane), Markie's boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey) and the rest of their crew to a condemned old church overlooking the sea, where they engage in a risqué game of "Truth or Dare." Things take a turn for the sinister when the stranger confesses to the group that he led them there for a dark purpose: he's pulled them into a real-life supernatural game of Truth or Dare, with some dire rules to follow: whenever a player has his or her turn, there is one option: choose truth or dare and complete the challenge, or die. Olivia and her group race to try and solve the mystery of how to end the game, before "truth" drags out painful long-buried secrets, or the "dare" challenges get them all killed.
Truth or Dare comes our way via Jeff Wadlow, the director of some lackluster B-movies like Cry_Wolf, Never Back Down, Kick-Ass 2, and Non-Stop. With that kind of resume, it's no surprise that Truth or Dare is also a B-movie romp; it's more fun than other recent game-themed horror flicks (looking at you Ouija), but nowhere near as novel and fun as Happy Death Day.
Wadlow's directorial eye is nothing all that impressive, just standard boiler plate angles, blocking, and framing - pretty much your standard B-movie work, complete with some grainy cinematography from Jacques Jouffret (Into the Wild, Deepwater Horizon). Where the film manages to distinguish itself (if only slightly) is in the moments where "the game" takes over. Sequences of characters finding themselves face-to-face with nightmarish versions of the people around them - faces all stretched into CGI-enhanced grins - are the true "scare" of the film. Unfortunately, virtually all of those "scary grin" moments have been spoiled by the trailers; that aside, it's still pretty unnerving to watch them play out in full. What you won't know about, going into the film, are the genuinely tense sequences where characters must complete the tasks assigned by the game. The "dare" sequences are especially tense, as the combination of a ticking clock - plus challenges that can easily go fatally wrong - will keep viewers on the edges of their seats.
In between the actual "Truth or Dare" moments, the story of the film is pretty hollow, and often gets dragged down with some standard YA drama that a lot of viewers will yawn at. The script by Wadlow, Michael Reisz (Shadowhunters), Jillian Jacobs, and Chris Roach tries to inject some deeper character arcs into the story, but those thin and predictable subplots just bloat the film from middle to end, adding about twenty extraneous minutes that didn't need to be there. In the end, all the extra character bits don't add anything significant - the story of these kids being trapped in the game, and trying to figure a way out, is pretty much all we need or really care about. Some better "truths" and less drama would've served this film well.
The cast of the film is a hodgepodge of young actors that you'll probably know from one place or another. The principal trio of Lucy Hale (Life Sentence), Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf) and Violett Beane (The Flash) are enough to carry things, with their love triangle storyline offering the chance for real thrills, as these players' motivations in the game shift with each act. Hale is a star-worthy lead, with her wide eyes and plush lips feeding the camera the whole way through. Watching plucky little "boy scout" Olivia's arc in the film is interesting for the most part, as are her interactions with Beane's character Markie, who is by far the most well-drawn character in the story, offering depth and backstory that propels things outside of the main narrative. Posey is a great middleman, offering enough star power and charisma to be a charming male lead, while still allowing the two female leads to shine brighter. For the most part, the other supporting characters are interesting, with Hayden Szeto's Brad Chang bringing a well-balanced Asian culture / LGBTQ subplot to the table. Only Nolan Gerar Funk and Sophia Ali's characters get dragged down into being thin horror archetypes: an arrogant and hopelessly skeptical med student, and the drunk "party girl," respectively.
While Truth or Dare manages to get by for most of its runtime, the final act of the film tries to pull a surprise twist that the movie doesn't earn - despite making not-so-subtle foreshadows all throughout the film. It's enough to claim that Truth or Dare "jumps the shark" in its final moments, as a lot of viewers won't be happy with where the story chooses to take things. In most cases, ending a horror film is far from being the hardest part, so it's perplexing to see Truth or Dare botch the landing so badly.
In the end, this isn't the horror film you need to see in theaters right now - A Quiet Place holds that honor. Truth or Dare will be a perfectly fine pick on the home video or "Netflix and Chill" circuit, freaking out teens everywhere who actualy still play this silly little party game.2comments
Review Score: ⭐️⭐️
Truth or Dare opens in theaters this week. It is 1 hour and 40 mins long, and is Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing content, alcohol abuse, some sexuality, language and thematic material.