‘Truth or Dare’ Review: A Grisly Cross Between ‘It Follows’ and ‘Final Destination’
Do you want to play a game? No, not one of Jigsaw’s twisted puzzles, but something much simpler: Truth or dare. Now take the classic childhood game and add a death curse. What you get is the latest Blumhouse production, Truth or Dare, where a group of college friends are forced into confessing their deepest secrets or committing humiliating acts, or else, well, they die. A cross between the sadistic challenges of Saw, the grisly deaths of Final Destination, and the viral evil of It Follows, the Jeff Wadlow-directed film is far from an original entry to the genre, but it’s full of effective scares.
For their final spring break of college, Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her friends go on a trip to Mexico. Her group has all the usual stereotypes, from the arrogant jock to the toned heartthrob – but there are notably two people of color in the lead cast. As they’re leaving a bar one night, they meet a guy (Landon Liboiron) who promises a fun time and free alcohol if they just follow him to a creepy unknown location in the middle of nowhere. Yielding to the genre rule of 20-somethings-making-dumb-decisions, they of course oblige and are lured to an abandoned church on a hilltop. They jump into truthing and daring, which starts out innocently enough. Tyler Posey’s Lucas is dared to strip naked, two girls are dared to kiss by the horny frat bro Ronnie (Sam Lerner), and one of Olivia’s secrets gets exposed – she’s secretly in love with, you guessed it, her BFF Markie’s (Violett Beane) boyfriend, Lucas.
But remember that suspicious guy who dragged them to the church? Before running off, he confesses that he initiated them into the game to save himself. The rules are simple: Once you’re asked the titular question, you better tell the truth or do the dare or else you die. None of them buy it, of course, and the friends return to their San Diego college campus where no one seems to have homework or go to class. Soon after, Olivia begins seeing visions as the game possesses the people around her, distorting their faces into a demonic smile – “It looks like a weird Snapchat filter” – and she’s forced into playing. After Ronnie dies from a nasty fall when he refuses a dare, the rest of the group are convinced they also must play to stay alive.
It’s not hard to see why the classic game we all indulged in at middle school sleepovers is ideal material for a PG-13 horror movie. It’s ripe with potential to unearth soapy drama and relationship conflicts, and the film makes sure to exploit that. The game’s challenges prey on the characters’ most shameful secrets, pitting them against each other for some CW-esque theatrics. It’s all fairly one-dimensional, with the characters solely defined by their primary weakness: a secret crush, a love triangle, a drinking problem, a dead parent, being in the closet (bonus points, though, for a studio movie including a gay person of color, and without gay-panic jokes). At certain points it seems like this evil game has a moral purpose to teach these kids a lesson. In one scene the gay character finds relief instead of regret after completing his dare, and in another one guy’s illegal activities are used as punishment against him. But don’t mistake this movie for being smarter than it is.
Truth or Dare is as mindless as the game itself. Its narrative is a clash of borrowed ideas – did I mention there’s a convoluted demonic backstory tacked on at the last minute? The dialogue and acting are about as dreadful as one would expect from a trashy horror-thriller. It’s made up of cheap jump scares and senseless Final Destination-level torture porn – prepare for lots of cringy neck-snapping and eyeball-gouging.
And yet, if I was forced to play the game (I always pick truth), and asked to admit if I enjoyed Truth or Dare, I’d have to say yes. It kept me on edge for a good portion of its runtime, anxious and wincing through its most grueling twists – while many are predictable, a few are exceptionally surprising and bleak. Wadlow manages to ratchet up the tension in the most clever set pieces, the best of which involves a bottle of vodka and a rooftop. It’s also the type of shlocky horror movie you want to watch with a big audience, and, dare I say, one that is especially fun, and funny, with a chatty crowd. This movie is too stupid not to laugh at.
The latest from Blumhouse doesn’t belong anywhere near the production company’s most superior horror flicks, and if you go in expecting anything close to the likes of Get Out, Paranormal Activity, or Sinister, you’ll leave disappointed. But for some silly nail-biting fun, it delivers.