The Blumhouse model is genius. There’s no arguing with close to $200 million worldwide off an $11,000 budget (Paranormal Activity). And when it works, as with last year’s Happy Death Day, it really works. When it doesn’t, however, we get The Visit, The Darkness, or, well, every other Paranormal Activity movie that followed the first one. Truth Or Dare neither reaches the heights of Happy Death Day nor plumbs the depths of Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.
It’s a perfectly serviceable Blumhouse offering which, for many movie-goers, will be just fine.
Our heroine is Pretty Little Liars‘ Lucy Hale, sporting a distractingly mumsy haircut that makes her look a bit like a secretary on Mad Men. She’s Olivia, a shy, bookish type looking to build homes for the poor in Africa when her much wilder best friend Markie, whose name will grate every time it’s uttered, (played by fellow TV actress Violett Beane, of The Flash) convinces her to go to Mexico. Their group of too-old-to-be-in-college-and-wait-how-do-they-all-afford-to-live-in-that-massive-house-together friends insist.
After being left out at by her buddies at a bar, Olivia meets a young man who whisks the group off, in a stupidly easy way, to an old, abandoned church (where all the good parties happen). Once there, he proposes a rousing game of Truth Or Dare. The friends are easily swayed after some basic-level protestations and soon things get mean. The asshole character, played by Nolan Gerard Funk as though he would rather be anywhere else, soon calls Olivia out for being in love with Markie’s boyfriend. And, when the mysterious stranger reveals life and death is actually at stake, things start to get really weird.
Truth Or Dare has an interesting, if unoriginal gimmick. It’s part Saw, part Final Destination, with allusions to being a teen-classic slasher like Scream only without any of the wit or scare factor. A character named Ronnie, who seems to exist only to make inappropriate comments, is so out of place it’s as though he’s teleported from another movie. He shows up only so he can die in what is easily the film’s most shocking and elaborate death sequence. Otherwise, we’re very much in “point gun at own head” territory here (and no, there’s no money shot).
None of the characters are likeable or fleshed out enough for us to feel as though there’s anything really at stake. Although Olivia and Markie keep talking about how they’ve been friends forever, they turn on each other remarkably quickly, and to say that this script was clearly written by a man (actually, three!) would be a massive understatement. Although there’s, thankfully, no skin on show, each of the female leads is a shrieking, emotional harpy — in fact, one is a straight up alcoholic.
As this is a teen movie aimed at the Friday night market, social media features prominently. So much so that, for one, horrifying moment, I worried that there was a crossover happening with the ghastly Friend Request. It makes sense that twenty-somethings such as this lot would turn to ye olde Internet in times of crisis, but the amount of screen-time wasted on them huddling around an (Apple, of course) laptop is truly baffling. Especially when it adds absolutely nothing to the near nonexistent tension.
That’s the other glaring problem with Truth Or Dare: it isn’t scary. Not even a little bit. It’s tense at times, and the jump scares aren’t quite as predictable as we’ve come to expect from this kind of mainstream, join-the-dots fare, but even picking off who’s going to be killed next becomes tiresome when no real effort has been made to establish the danger these people are in. For much of its run-time, this movie just really wants to be a teen drama for some reason. Only, with boring 20-year-olds sometimes trying not to get killed.
There’s been a lot of talk this past week about A Quiet Place and how it allegedly isn’t a real horror movie due to its PG-13 rating. Krasinski does a lot of really clever things to make that movie scary without showing too much, but Truth Or Dare reveals how limiting it can be to aim for the teen market when the filmmakers haven’t got a solid product, a good eye, or a decent grasp of what makes something scary. There’s virtually no blood or gore and, save for one, hammer-related incident, nothing pushing the boundaries either. We don’t need to see everything to be scared, but we do need to see/hear/feel something.
The performances are fine across the board; the standard, unremarkable, Dawson’s Creek-lite stuff that befits this kind of material. There’s nothing approaching Jessica Rothe’s fearless performance in Happy Death Day, although Hale does her best in her first big, leading role, and she at least comes off better than Beane’s perma-scowling Markie (ugh, that name). The men are interchangeable, including Hayden Szeto, who was so charming in The Edge of Seventeen but here is saddled with “gay kid” and no further defining qualities.
The personalities of the central group actually describe Truth Or Dare itself quite accurately; bland, inoffensive, by-the-numbers, and mostly forgettable. They’re okay for the 100 minutes the film is on, but one wouldn’t want to spend any longer than that in their company. More to the point, it’s difficult to care whether any of them survive, even when a last-minute sacrifice (that makes absolutely no sense, of course) comes into play.
Nerve did much the same thing but with a much nastier, more cynical edge. It wasn’t afraid to put its characters in real danger — even if it was just a wobbly ladder between buildings — and then force us, the audience both at home and onscreen, to get pleasure out of watching them suffer, or to throw Machine Gun Kelly at us and make us root for him. Truth Or Dare is too safe to really commit to the darkness and instead leaves one wondering why it really needs to exist in the first place.
Maybe it’s just for the Friday night crowd and hardcore horror fanatics should steer clear and just go watch A Quiet Place instead. But even in comparison to the likes of lowest common denominator stuff Jigsaw, which was so proudly cheesy and silly, and actually quite good fun as a result, this is seriously tame, boring stuff. Only Blumhouse completists need apply. The rest can wait for The First Purge.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Jeff Wadlow
Writer(s): Jeff Wadlow, Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach
Stars: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Hayden Szeto, Violett Beane
Release date: April 13, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Blumhouse
Length: 100 minutes