TRUTH OR DARE
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Cast: Lucy Hale, Violett Beane, Tyler Posey, Sophia Taylor Ali, Nolan Hayden Szeto, Gerard Funk, Landon Liboiron, Sam Lerner, Aurora Perrineau, Tom Choi
MPAA Rating: (for violence and disturbing content, alcohol abuse, some sexuality, language and thematic material)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 4/13/18
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 12, 2018
Imagine a banal soap opera that's interspersed with occasional scenes of inconsistently thought-out horror, and you pretty much have Truth or Dare. Whether the movie's four screenwriters actually intended it or not, there is something of a clever premise here, since the game of the title encourages the characters to create even more drama within their circle of friends. On the other end of the game's dynamic, it allows the characters the chance to punish their friends' for those revealed truths.
The movie, though, isn't that smart or even that cruelly cynical about the gimmick. It creates a rather silly concept—that of a sentient and murderous game of Truth or Dare—and then fashions sequences of incompetent jump-scares, suspense-less acts of dared idiocy, and deaths that lack any creative, emotional, or even gory punch. Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach, and director Jeff Wadlow's screenplay basically gives us a bunch of mostly unlikeable characters who do some stupid things and usually die as a result. Not a single component of this formula gives us a reason to care about the characters, to reflect on the nature of the killer game, or to worry about what the consequences might be.
It all begins on a spring break trip to Mexico. A hesitant Olivia (Lucy Hale) joins a group of her friends/housemates. She was going to build houses with a charity, but her pals decided to email the organization and lie that their friend has an infectious disease. What's that saying about having friends like these?
While on vacation, Olivia meets Carter (Landon Liboiron), who convinces her and her friends to join him at an abandoned, cliff-side mission in the middle of nowhere. They play a game of Truth or Dare, and Carter reveals that the game itself will force them to continue to play.
If they lie after choosing truth, they die. If they don't do a dare, they die. The game continues by possessing random people near a player when it's his or her turn. Actually, the game appears to creating visions of demonic possession in the players' heads, except when it clearly does possess people. For a movie that features a mysterious villain that's pretty strident in the game's rules, the filmmakers obviously didn't make an effort to figure out the movie's own rules.
As for those friends, there's Olivia's best friend Markie (Violett Beane), Markie's boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), a wannabe medical student named Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), his girlfriend Penelope (Sophia Taylor Ali), and Brad (Hayden Szeto). These characters are barely types. Lucas is the good boyfriend, who has feelings for Olivia, until he doesn't, because he actually loves Markie, who's cheating him, which is a bad thing in his mind, until it isn't. Tyson is the jerk, and Penelope is a functioning alcoholic, which is played for laughs during her deadly dare. Brad is gay but hasn't told his cop father (played by Tom Choi) out of fear of how he'll react. It takes a resurrected corpse to dare him to tell the truth.
The corpse, by the way, first appears in such a way that Brad doesn't see it, which means that its sudden appearance in frame only occurs to shock the audience. Wadlow employs a lot of jump-scares here—and poorly, at that. This one makes no logical sense within the context of the movie itself, and an earlier one hits us with a loud musical sting before anything actually jumps into frame.
The main characters are Olivia, the consummate do-gooder of the group (which isn't saying much), and Markie, who has some psychological issues after her father's suicide. If the movie plays a character alcoholism as a joke while she's walking along the edge of a rooftop, you'd better believe that it gets as much exploitative mileage as it can out of the father's death and the possibility that Markie might do the same thing—not to mention the deep, dark secret that Olivia believes to be the reason that her friend's father killed himself.
The problem isn't that the movie touches upon these issues. It's that Truth or Dare clearly doesn't care about them in any way, beyond using them to bolster its thinly designed gimmick and its dunderheaded execution. As a horror movie, it's too unimaginative (until its finale, which envisions the game's potential as a worldwide urban legend of sorts). As a soap opera, it's dull and manipulative. As a combination of the two, it's a missed opportunity.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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