Director: Jeff Wadlow
Stars: Lucy Hale, Violett Beane, Nolan Gerard Funk
When it becomes apparent that the first two scenes of a movie are completely superfluous while you’re watching them, its time to worry. It didn’t have to be this way. While Jason Blum’s scare factory has had its ups and downs in the past, 2017 was a very good year. Not only did Get Out ride all the way to the Oscars, but even the unassuming Happy Death Day – released just in time for Halloween – managed to break $100 million thanks to some well-deserved word-of-mouth. Blumhouse have earned a free pass in 2018, right?
Wrong. Truth Or Dare blows and blows hard. There were scant hopes that it might follow Happy Death Day and usher in a new run of creative collegial horror… but no. From the off this is nothing but a chore, one that stacks up bad decisions as quickly as the uninspired cavalcade of airheads that we’re nominally urged to root for.
It’s spring break (“spring break 4 eva”). Woo! Par-tay! That’s what our bunch of generic-as-can-be millennials are after as they head south from California to Mexico in order to get trashed at a pool party that looks like it’s happening in… California. It is here that Olivia (Lucy Hale) meets Carter (Landon Liboiron) who invites them all for a nightcap at… a creepy rundown mission! Par-tay! Once they’re there, Carter insists that they play truth or dare, something which everyone goes along with because, well, the ensuing 90 minutes have to be facilitated somehow. So they play, even though the most enthused response is that it “could” be interesting.
This being a horror movie ‘n’ all, of course the game is cursed. Carter spouts some mumbo-jumbo about having to play or they’ll die and everyone decides this loser and his creepy religious hideout are a downer. Time for bed! Back in good ol’ US of A, and Olivia comes to realise – shock! – that Carter meant it. They all have to play truth or dare at the behest of an evil possessing entity that grins like Aphex Twin in the late 90’s… or else! Oooooo.
Four credited writers here and they all ought to be ashamed of themselves. When it’s not trying to extricate itself from an increasingly convoluted set of rules and some preposterous (yet somehow also uninspired) lore, Truth Or Dare dashes painfully through any number of don’t-dos from Horror 101. Catch The Cliché is the real name of the game here. We have everything from characters noticing out-loud that things are weird, to pointlessly pretending that they’re not. Explaining shared history to one another like they’ve only just met is another recurring crime. Not to mention that bit in the middle of the picture where everyone, yes, Googles the next bit of the plot. These kids are so dumb that they even have to look up how to get to a place they’ve already been to.
Olivia herself is a vlogger with her own YouTube channel, and mobile phones play a large part in getting a lot of people in trouble over the course of this movie. Perhaps Truth Or Dare is trying to make some snide point about how young people today would be lost without their smartphones; how, really, they deserve this… but it seems more likely that no underlying point is being made by this wet-hotdog-stand of a movie.
The cast of new faces try their level best, but the material is borderline impossible to salvage. But their seniors fare worse. Spare a thought for poor Tom Choi, cast here as both a cop and a father, wholeheartedly failing to convince as either. I’d not ordinarily be so mean as to single out an earnest day player like this, but jeez. Give up. In fairness, Choi has as little to work with as everybody else. The script is a torrent of unending garbage. He just happens to have slipped on it a lot harder than most.
Though it starts pretty much as soon as the movie does, come the third act the Dawson’s Creek melodrama is laid on so thick it verges on self-parody (oh if only this flick were that self-aware). As if we weren’t getting it, the score rams these clumsy beats home. Buffy staked vampires with more subtlety. So, between the dialogue and the music, Truth Or Dare sounds perpetually horrendous.
But don’t worry, it looks just as bad.
Director Jeff Wadlow and his cinematographer Jacques Jouffret have seemingly pooled their resources to make Truth Or Dare seem as though it were filmed… by accident. Not via the faux vérité styling of found footage horror, but rather the more casual suggestion that the actors haven’t waited for someone to call ‘action’. The camera often seems to be catching up with people, or (wrongfully) attempting to guess where they are headed. As if blocking wasn’t a thing. Lighting for clarity often doesn’t seem to have been considered. See also the notion of suspense; that key ingredient in successful scaremongering is ousted in the editing room by Sean Albertson. The turn-based nature of the film’s curse may have notable antecedents in the likes of modern classics Ringu or It Follows, but no attempt at understanding what makes those films tick has been made.
Stupefying, cringe-worthy, laughably tame and (worst of all) long at 100 minutes, this is one game where there really are no winners.