Truth Or Dare (2018)

APRIL 13, 2018

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As I've mentioned before (and yet some of you insist I am lying!), I am not a teenaged girl, so my opinion on films like Truth or Dare* should be of little concern to its target audience or its makers. That said, I found it fairly enjoyable and - relative to its sub-genre, not to horror as a whole - rather impressive in some ways, putting it above the films it will probably play alongside at slumber parties for the next few years. In an ideal world, we'd have a new Friday the 13th movie hitting theaters today (the logic of which I never got - why not release them a week BEFORE their namesake day and get a second weekend boost?), but this is a perfectly decent consolation prize for adults, and thus teens will probably like it even more.

The plot is hokey, but so is "a guy kills you in your dreams" and "a videotape will kill you if you watch it", so I'm baffled by the people rolling their eyes at the damn premise. As the trailers promise, our protagonists are playing Truth or Dare, and if they lie or refuse the dare, then they're killed. It's kind of Final Destination-lite, in fact - once our heroes realize the stakes are real and that there's an "order", they find ways to stay alive while the curse moves on to the next person, then cycles back when necessary. We learn some other rules along the way, including one that states that they can't just keep picking "truth" (once they realize the dares they're given are often quite dangerous); if two people in a row pick truth, the next has to do a dare. This does more than just mix up the film's pattern - it actually ties into the heroine's arc.

See, our traditional hero Olivia, played by Lucy Hale, is the totally selfless type who plans to use her spring break going to Habitat for Humanity, and when asked if she'd spare her friends if it meant wiping out an entire country of strangers, she tells her friends they're goners. So even when she can pick "truth" and merely tell a friend something they probably don't want to hear, she chooses dare in order to make things safer for her next two friends in line. Once the demon (of course it's a demon behind everything) figures that out, it uses it against her - daring her to tell the truth, heh. I mean it's not the point and it's going to go over the heads of its target audience, but the underlying theme of the movie is to stick by the people who care about you instead of trying to please strangers (her passion for her Youtube channel is another underplayed element of this), and she ultimately learns her lesson, albeit only after a number of her friends are killed.

As for the others, they're the usual gaggle of stock characters in these things: Markie the blonde best friend, Ronnie the horny asshole no one likes, Veronica the lush, Brad the minority (OK to be fair there are two this time, but they double down by making the Asian guy gay as well), etc. But they're fairly likable versions of these people; even the asshole guy is kind of charming in his own way, and (spoiler? it's in the trailer) he's the first to go, so it's not like we have to put up with him for that long anyway. At first I was ready to write the whole lot of them off when signs of yet another goddamn love triangle reared their cliched heads, with Olivia clearly gazing at Markie's boyfriend, but instead of just a generic way to introduce strife, it's actually kind of a thru-line for the entire movie, and part of the game as well. For starters, nothing's happened between Olivia and the guy - she just has feelings for him that she can't act upon, because she cares about her best friend more (this makes her, I believe, the first modern horror movie character who seemingly cares more about their best friend than getting laid). Second, Markie is constantly cheating on the guy with randoms, trusting Olivia to cover for her - making Olivia's feelings even harder to deal with, as she could easily get what she wanted and not even feel that guilty since Markie's the one in the wrong anyway.

Anyway, this stuff keeps coming back into the game, so again it's just not a lazy excuse for people to be mad at each other and thus go off on their own to get killed. The demon uses it against both of them and the boyfriend at every opportunity, to the point where I was genuinely unsure who, if any of them, would survive, and if they would end up together or not. Plus in between their scare moments we get the more straight forward deaths of their pals, with the demon using their own issues (such as Brad's fear of telling his father that he's gay, or Veronica's drinking habit) to conjure up some psychologically driven dares. Eventually it bogs down to the usual "Oh look online here's an article about this old church and blah blah we have to blah blah ritual" stuff we've seen in a zillion others, but the fact that the characters aren't all jerks and that their death scenes are intrinsically linked to their personal demons (as opposed to the random nonsense of things like Wish Upon) make it more compelling than I originally assumed, keeping my interest. I mean, due to the way the theater was designed and the fact that no one was in my row I could have looked at Twitter or something during the movie without anyone seeing/being bothered, and I DIDN'T. The word "hero" gets thrown around a lot, but...

To be fair, you do have to overlook a couple of dumb things, like the fact that the old lady they go to for exposition has a granddaughter, even though the backstory is that she was a nun at age 19 who cut her tongue out and went crazy, so I dunno when she found time/interest to get knocked up after that. The actors playing the two parents we see are both remarkably terrible; thankfully their screentime is kept to a minimum but considering their importance to their children's storylines it's a bit of an issue that they both seem to be meeting them for the first time in their scenes. And I get the concept of using a Snapchat-y looking filter effect on the faces of the people who are possessed by the game, but it's not creepy at all and overused anyway. I suppose if they used it sparingly it might just produce laughter when sprung on the audience, so at least we get numb to it by the halfway point if not sooner, but it's an odd gamble to take. I mean everyone looks like they are victims of Joker's gas in the Burton Batman, but even they were creepier since it was an appliance instead of a CGI effect (not to mention an unexplained one - why are they all smiling? They just love Truth or Dare that much?)

But they're not fatal flaws - the biggest obstacle it has is that there have been a lot of these "supernatural curse targets a group of friends" type movies in the past couple years (Friend Request, Wish Upon, Bye Bye Man, Rings, Ouija, and Unfriended all came to mind more than once, plus Polaroid, which would have been released if not for Dimension's legal woes), and I'm not sure if "the characters are better written than usual" or "the death scenes aren't throwaway things that look cool" is enough to convince folks to show up. Quiet Place is also only a week old (and, to be fair, better) so it can't coast on starved audiences the way Ouija was able to when it had Halloween time all to itself for reasons I can't recall, and "Jeff Wadlow's best film!" isn't exactly a huge hurdle to clear, either. Basically, it's not great, but it's better than I figured it would be when I sat down (and saw the goddamned Sicario 2 trailer for the dozenth time - yet I still haven't seen one for Bad Samaritan which supposedly opens in three weeks), and I wish it was opening at a time when it had no competition so it would shine a little brighter - or that it was merely just a touch better so I could give it a stronger endorsement without sounding crazy. But the ending is admirably gonzo, if that helps?

What say you?

*It's actually called "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" on-screen, which is ridiculous. Don't start doing this, guys. Hopefully it's just a one-time thing because of the other movies with that title, but if not... just don't.

3 comments:

  1. My 16 year old and I went yesterday and had a lot of fun. I don't need to see it again but it was a good way to fill a rainy afternoon.

    Also Veronica's name is Penelope

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  2. It wasn't too bad. I feel that if it had been more visceral, more people would be embracing it. But as far as these kinds of things go, I'd definitely take it over a lot of other PG-13 crap to hit theaters.

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  3. About the Blumhouse's in title... they probably were afraid it'd be confused with SyFy's Truth or Dare, which wasn't very good.

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