Truth or Dare | Jeff Wadlow | April 13, 2018
The horror genre, as of late, has had a few standouts, like A Quiet Place, several A24 releases (notably The Witch and It Follows), and Get Out, which work to take the genre in creative new directions while exploring various themes and messages. Truth or Dare, the latest from Blumhouse Productions (perhaps more rubber-stamped with the logo), doesn’t work to do any of that – yet still leaves the door open for a possible but really unnecessary sequel, unlike the Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, The Conjuring, and Sinister franchises that are a little more interesting concept-wise.
Truth or Dare starts off in media res as any modern teen horror film would – a crazed-looking college student sets a woman on fire in a Mexican border-town convenience store because of a game of truth or dare that’s following her like a bad penny. This is discarded for maybe half the film, as the focus shifts to college friends Olivia (Pretty Little Liars‘ Lucy Hale), Markie (The Flash‘s Violett Beane) and her boyfriend Lucas (Teen Wolf‘s Tyler Posey), Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) and his girlfriend Penelope (Sophia Taylor Ali), and Brad (The Edge of Seventeen‘s Hayden Szeto) on spring break in Mexico, as Olivia’s Habitat for Humanity plans were canceled by Markie to get her to join them. On their last night, Olivia meets Carter (Landon Liboiron) at a bar, and he convinces the whole group to join him for a night of shenanigans … namely Truth or Dare in an abandoned mission. The game starts innocently enough, but Carter reveals that he was dared to bring them back to play the game before abandoning them. Back in the US, Olivia is followed around by the question of “Truth or dare?”, leading to hallucinations of people with inhuman devilish Joker-like grins posing the question, which eventually spread to the other players – including Ronnie (Sam Lerner), who had tagged along at the bar and who meets his end by being the first not to follow the rules of the game. From that point, it’s a race to put a stop to the game before everyone dies, bringing them into contact with Giselle (the teen from the opening) and a former Sister from a dark time in the mission’s past who started the whole deal by summoning a trickster demon to stop the sadistic and murderous head preacher, which lead to the demon possessing the game. Yeah, you read that right.
Jeff Wadlow, who started his feature career with Cry Wolf and has since gone on to Kick-Ass 2 and Netflix’s True Memoirs of an International Assassin, returns to the horror genre and directs the 20-something cast decently enough, but they never fully sell their actions. Revelations come out a la teen soap operas, there’s some backstabbing … the usual for a TV movie or show. It’s mostly 20-somethings acting like stupid teens in genre horror movies, and no matter what help the adults (namely two cops – one being Brad’s dad [Tom Choi]) try to provide, the winnowing group of college students doesn’t fully tell the truth. Maybe it’s a mix of the directing and the writing, as the script is credited to the quartet of Wadlow, Michael Reisz, Jillian Jacobs, and Christopher Roach, resulting in what feels like an uneven script.
One bright spot in the film, though, is the bits of diversity. Penny is of Southeast Asian descent, and Brad is both gay and of Chinese descent. The diversity angle isn’t totally played up, apart from the fact that Brad not being out to his dad factors into his truth/dare scenes. Unfortunately, Brad’s death is even more tragic, given the general treatment and frequent tokenization of LGBTQ characters in horror movies and the reality of cop-related shootings in the US.
Aside from that, Truth or Dare is in and of itself derivative of other supernatural horror films – namely It Follows, but with more of a message-less and commercial bent rather than an artistic one. Unlike It Follows commenting on budding sexuality by way of an unexplained STD-like hallucinatory creature (with an excellent off-putting score to boot), Truth or Dare is just here to explain and play a game … a very messed up game with demonic trickster roots. If you want to take other horror films into consideration, the deaths are somewhat Final Destination-like but not as gory, and the film itself is definitely within the low-budget memetic horror subgenre – the latest example that comes to mind being The Bye Bye Man. Much like other game-based horror movies Ouija and the Saw franchise, I’d suggest you keep away and not consider playing. You might lose a limb, your soul, or your tongue.