Thursday, April 19, 2018

Movie Review: Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare ** / ****
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow.
Written by: Jillian Jacobs and Michael Reisz and Christopher Roach and Jeff Wadlow.
Starring: Lucy Hale (Olivia), Tyler Posey (Lucas), Violett Beane (Markie Cameron), Sophia Ali (Penelope), Nolan Gerard Funk (Tyson Curran), Hayden Szeto (Brad), Landon Liboiron (Carter), Sam Lerner (Ronnie), Brady Smith (Roy Cameron), Aurora Perrineau (Giselle), Tom Choi (Officer Han Chang).
Truth or Dare is a rather bland horror movie for the teen crowd that never truly settles on what it wants to be. The premise is essentially a group of college seniors, on one last spring break, get roped into a deadly game of truth or dare – one they cannot stop playing. You lie, you die, you don’t do the dare, you die, you try and stop, you die. There is no realistic way to set up a game like this – but I suppose having it start in a Mexican Church is one way to do it. One by one, the people in the game start dying off, and the survivors have to try and find the way to stop it.
The students involved in the game are really a collection of stereotypes, without much in the way of personality – or more accurately, they are all given one personality trait and play it exclusively. Our heroine is Olivia (Lucy Hale) – the “good girl” of the group, sweet and innocent – she didn’t even want to go on Spring Break with her friends – she wanted to spend the week building houses for Habitat for Humanity. Her best friend is Markie (Violet Beane), and because she’s blond, and her best friend is the brunette good girl, she has to play the party girl. Her boyfriend is Lucas (Tyler Posey), but she cheats on him constantly. Olivia is hiding secret feelings for Lucas – and perhaps he has feelings for her as well. The rest of the characters aren’t even given that much depth – there’s Brad (Hayden Szeto, so good in The Edge of Seventeen) who is openly gay – except with his father. There’s Ronnie Sam Lerner, who in reality would likely be a date rapist, but here is presented as a harmless pest, constantly hitting on every girl around him. Tyson and Penelope (Nolan Gerard Funk and Sophia Ali) spend most of the movie locked in some sort of foreplay – unless she’s drunk or he’s being an asshole.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help but think of the Final Destination films- five films made between 2000 and 2011, in which a group of kids not unlike those in this film, are all supposed to die in some sort of freak accident, and then don’t – but death comes for them one by one, to kill them in interesting, over-the-top ways. In those films, death was inescapable – it was coming for you, before you were supposed to die, and although as the series progressed the deaths became increasingly over-the-top and silly, they were also full of creativity. More of that would have been helpful in Truth or Dare, as the characters essentially follow the same trajectory as those in Final Destination, but for the most part die in rather generic, bloodless ways. If you’re going to make a film with this silly a concept, at least embrace it. The film also spends FAR too much time explaining the rules of the game (and then explaining them again and again – at the sparsely attended show I went to, someone yelled out “We know!” at one point, and it was hard to argue their point). The film also spends too much time trying to get us to care about these characters, and to be honest, we really truly don’t. They are bland archetypes more than real people, and while they are played by an attractive cast, who are mostly game, it’s hard to really care about them.
The ending is probably the films biggest cheat. The thing that worked about the Final Destination films was that, as cruel as they were, it was just death balancing the scales – these people were supposed to die, and didn’t, and know death was coming for what should have already happened. In Truth or Dare the characters are stuck playing a game – but it’s not really a game if there is no way for them to win. Jigsaw may have rigged the games in the Saw movies to make it hard to win – but he always gave you a chance – you follow the rules, you can get out alive. The ending here was designed to shock the audience – give them one last twist. But it felt like a cheat to me.
I will say this for Truth or Dare – it isn’t a boring film. Director Jeff Wadlow keeps it moving along fairly rapidly, and for a while, it’s kind of interesting to try and figure out where all this going. It certainly wanted to be something like Blumhouse’s last wide release – Happy Death Day – and it has the same tone as that film. But that film, with just as silly as a premise as this one, was fun, had a great lead performance, and for the most part, played fair. Truth or Dare has none of that going for it.

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