Directed by David Guy Levy
It’s rather unfortunate that it’s saddled with a rather innocuous title because Would You Rather is a wicked little slice of indie horror that presents its audiences with several rather thought-provoking questions: Just how far you would go in order to save yourself and anyone you love? Would you inflict pain and suffering on others just to get ahead? Could you kill someone if it meant a means to the end of all your problems?
The results are a gorgeous, tension-filled thriller that feels a bit like Clue meets Saw meets House on Haunted Hill with an engaging and eclectic cast that makes it almost impossible to look away during the film’s many cringe-inducing moments. While the dastardly game featured in its title does take a while to get going, once Would You Rather gets rolling, that’s when things get really good and director David Guy Levy leaves us squirming in our seats almost as much as the players in Jeffrey Comb’s sadistic game.
At the beginning we meet Iris (Brittany Snow), a 20-something just trying to keep her head above water both personally and financially; after both her parents die, she returns home to look for work and to take care of her terminally ill brother, who is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. With the economy and modern health care being what it is, Iris’ doctor sympathizes with her and offers up a possible solution in the form of aristocrat Shepard Lambrick (Combs), whose foundation offers up scholarships to people in need. The only catch is that Iris must attend a dinner party first at Lambrick’s estate. Thinking it all seems easy enough, Iris shows up at Lambrick’s, only to be greeted by several other dinner guests who are all in need just as much as Iris. Their host then informs them that only one of them will be awarded with the “Lambrick Scholarship,” and in order to have a shot, they’ve got to participate in a sick and twisted game of Would You Rather, pitting them against each other to the death.
Taking into consideration its concept, it would have been very easy for Would You Rather to fall into “torture porn” (not a term this writer personally loves but is using for ease of reference here) territory, but thankfully Levy finds a clever balance between psychological terror, body horror and gore, which all work well together here. The film definitely has enough cringe-inducing moments to make the gorehounds satiated, but with many of the more gratuitous moments of violence played off-screen, Would You Rather‘s restraint ends up working in its favor, with viewers left to ponder the far more horrifying events happening, which lends itself to the palpable tension Levy builds throughout the film.
Combs’ performance as Lambrick leads the talented ensemble and is nothing short of brilliant as he proves once again that he was born to play these kinds of smarmy, conflict-inducing characters (a la The Frighteners). Rather than play the millionaire “philanthropist” (in his eyes, at least) as a one-dimensional character whose only motivation is seeing people do the very worst to each other, there’s something a bit more going on with Combs’ chillingly charismatic performance, and Lambrick comes off a bit like a mash-up of Mr. Boddy, Pat Sajak, Jigsaw and Bill Gates all in one.
Snow is compelling as the film’s main protagonist, Iris, incorporating just the right amount of ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ into her performance, which really makes you want her to survive Lambrick’s nasty little game and find a way home to her dying brother. The rest of Levy’s wonderfully eclectic cast are also pretty great with the director allowing them all to have their own character moments and find that chemistry between each other. Since almost all of their performances are limited to being stuck around the dining room table, the film very well could have ended up feeling like the horror version of an awkward Diane Keaton dramedy, but thankfully Levy put his faith in the stellar group of actors including John Heard, Sasha Grey, Eddie Steeples, Robin Taylor and Robb Wells, and they certainly do a fantastic job of keeping things interesting- and very, very twisted, too.
As a whole, Would You Rather is everything you’d want from an indie horror thriller; it’s smart, slick and delightfully sick with a horrific but compelling game of survival that manages to give audiences a little food for thought along with their horror, especially considering the current state of our economy with most of us feeling a bit more cash-strapped than we’d like to. It’s hard to believe Would You Rather is Levy’s first foray into the genre world as he approaches many modern horror tropes with such a confident twist, and his decision to go with mood over gore really complements the story as a whole. Don’t let the underwhelming title fool you, Would You Rather is wickedly fun with Combs’ performance alone making the film absolutely worth the watch.
4 out of 5