Starring Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane
Written by Jeff Wadlow, Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach
Directed by Jeff Wadlow
Horror often comes in waves. We saw it with the J-horror craze that swept the US in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Then the French Extreme shocked us in the mid-2000’s. The extreme horror of the early 2000’s, with films such as Saw and Hostel, gave way to found footage, which has since stepped aside for the supernatural resurgence. Success is often the precursor to a trend. So here’s hoping that Truth or Dare tanks and we don’t have to endure a spate of horror films based on innocuous party games.
The film follows Olivia (Hale), who is a natural do-gooder intent on building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Alas, her BFF Markie (Beane) – and they really try to drive this friendship home throughout the film – has lied to the organization to get them to cancel her planned spring break charity trip so that Olivia can join her and their clearly (please note my sarcasm here) close-knit group of friends in Mexico for your generic spring break shenanigans. Olivia meets Carter, sparks fly, subtle flirtations arise, and in the span of a few hours, Carter manages to convince Olivia and her friends – who, by the way, apparently left her alone for several hours with some random guy in Mexico because…besties? – to go to a random abandoned mission in the middle of nowhere that they have to hike to so they can drink cervezas and play Truth or Dare. Turns out Carter is passing along a cursed version of the game to this new group, and they have to play the game or suffer the deadly consequences of lying or inaction.
Let me make it clear that I was originally quite open to the idea of Truth or Dare being, at the very least, entertaining. The trailers, while silly, made it seem like it’d be full of cringe-inducing deaths and surreal scenarios predicated upon an innocent mechanism. Unfortunately, none of that came to fruition, and I was left with one of the most generic and laughably terrible horror films in recent memory.
None of the characters are likable. Not a single one. Furthermore, their actions make no sense and it’s unbelievable that they even consider each other friends at all. For example, Olivia secretly loves Markie’s boyfriend, Lucas, who seemingly hides that same attraction, something that is basically screamed at the audience when their characters first interact. Oh, but then later in the film that entire foundation is completely dashed for no good reason to the greater story.
Or how about Brad (Hayden Szeto), a gay man whose father is apparently extremely homophobic. However, when the cursed game forces him to come out after he chooses “truth”, that homophobia never shows itself, nor does it show itself prior. It’s a side story that not only goes unexplored, it’s contradicted by his father’s actions.
Rarely will you hear me complain about PG-13 horror. I don’t need gore for a genre film to thrill me. That being said, Truth or Dare is the kind of film that screams for that exact tactic. The deaths should feel visceral. They should have impact. They should make me fear for the lives of these people. Instead, each death is given a mere glance and we’re not allowed to feel its weight. The combination of characters that I simply don’t care about coupled with no reverence given to their demises results in far more laughs than scares.
The script by Wadlow, Jacobs, Reisz, and Roach attempts to build up a mythology behind the origin of the cursed game; but it only ends up being a convoluted mess that serves to let the movie twist the rules when it wants. What was first “Truth or Dare” becomes “Two Truths and a Dare”, which leads into whatever the demonic entity behind the game desires. Horror can absolutely play by a “rules mean nothing” mentality but not when the whole foundation of a film centers around needing to abide by a strict set of directives.
Anyone who has played Truth or Dare knows that delicious anxiety you get in the pit of your stomach as it gets closer to your turn. Somehow, and this is almost astonishing, Truth or Dare manages to never once convey that feeling in the audience.
Much like how the characters lament playing Truth or Dare with some stranger in Mexico, this is one movie that should never have happened in the first place.
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