TRUTH OR DARE – The Review
By Dan Schindel
The premise of Truth or Dare almost seems like a bad joke, the kind of idea for a movie that only shows up in fiction when mocking lame-brained movie plots. There have been a thousand jokes about innocent games, objects, or animals twisted to sinister ends, but this movie actually goes ahead and makes that its main idea. This is, indeed, about a murderous game of truth or dare. And it is supposed to be taken seriously!
Let’s back up and explain a bit. Truth or Dare follows a group of college-age British kids as they go to a party being held at a remote mansion. The party is in celebration of the birthday of Felix (Tom Kane), an outcast whom some of them had humiliated at a different party several months earlier. One would think this should be a giant red flag, but they answer his invitation anyway for the free booze. The group consists of nice girl Gemma (Florence Hall), her jerk ex-boyfriend Chris (Jack Gordon), catty rich girl Eleanor (Jennie Jacques), her reserved boyfriend Paul (Liam Boyle), and nervous drug dealer Luke (Alexander Vlahos).
Upon arriving at a rundown cabin on the grounds of the estate, they discover that Felix isn’t there, his older brother Justin (David Oakes) in his place. Justin then proceeds to hold the group hostage, revealing that Felix is in fact dead, having committed suicide. Justin believes that one of them is responsible, and instigates a night full of terror and torture.
The characters in this movie are sublimely stupid, and that’s even when holding them to the diminished standard of suspended disbelief that I’m willing to grant a low-rent horror movie. Luke, in particular, does absolutely nothing that makes any kind of sense throughout the whole run time. While Justin binds the other hostages, he keeps Luke free as a “helper,” and there are half a dozen moments where he could do something but doesn’t, for extremely contrived reasons.
Really, though, none of the characters live beyond anything more than the “types” they’re established as. Gemma is good, Eleanor is a bitch, Chris is a dick, etc, etc. None of them are particularly likable, having already been established as bullies, so there isn’t much tension over their fates. In fact, I felt triumphant at most of their deaths, which is kind of exactly the opposite of the way I think I was supposed to feel.
Justin doesn’t make much of a mark as the villain of the piece. Even with his Matthew Goode-like looks, Oakes doesn’t invigorate him with much else than generic intimidating looming. Every horror movie killer needs a “hook,” and his is a device that can feed either water or battery acid to a person. It doesn’t really make for anything besides suspense-less scenes, where you know exactly whether or not a victim is gonna get their insides eaten or not.
The movie would be a completely generic in a harmless way if it weren’t for an extremely strange turn that it takes towards the end. There’s a “twist” that one of the characters is in fact responsible, in a quite direct way, for Felix hanging himself. Right after this, said character then proceeds to revel in their badness… and they are whom we are meant to root for. It’s such a bizarre about-face. Director Robert Heath might be trying to play with the conventions of the genre here, making the audience question who it’s “proper” to cheer on in this situation. The problem is that any thematic concerns are overwhelmed by the fact that it’s just so oppressively ugly that there’s no real motivation for one to think it over.
In fact, a good deal of the film is ugly. It perpetuates the terrible idea that picked-on kids get what’s coming to them for being “weird.” I know we generally don’t take horror movies to task for irresponsible social messages, but Truth or Dare isn’t even scary or entertaining enough to let me ignore it, sit back, and enjoy the ride. It’s a wretched little film, on every level of its construction.
TRUTH OR DARE ARRIVES ON BLU-RAY, DVD in the UK & iTUNES ON AUGUST 27th.
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