Truth or Dare (2018)
The Truth Will Set Them Free.
Based on the adolescent party game Truth or Dare, Blumhouse’s latest is probably their weakest outing to date. If you’ve never heard of the titular Truth or Dare, it’s a verbal pastime that mostly takes place during night-time get-togethers, where players are given a choice between answering a question truthfully or performing a dare, both of which are set by one of the other opponents. While this premise feels ripe with possibility — play by the rules and be forced to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets or perform death-defying deeds — director Jeff Wadlow, Cry Wolf (2005), and his three kinda untested feature-film scribes (Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz and Christopher Roach) don’t push the boundaries far enough in terms of sadistic stakes or gruesome casualties, the picture coming off as a campy CW affair with little in the way of tension or scares.
The movie opens just before Spring Break, where soon-to-graduate collage gal Olivia Barron (Lucy Hale) decides that she’d rather spend her holiday doing volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity than party with her pals in a foreign country — who is this girl, some kind of saint? Anyway, her bestie Markie (Violett Beane) isn’t going to let Olivia miss out on all the fun, convincing her BFF to come along by promising that she (and their four closest buds) would help her out by building houses for the poor during the summer. Of course, it’s an offer Olivia can’t refuse. And so, it’s off to Mexico (their planned destination) with Markie’s blank-faced beau Lucas Moreno (Tyler Posey), their gay Asian friend Brad Chang (Hayden Szeto) and couple Penelope Amari (Sophia Ali) and Tyson Curran (Nolan Gerard Funk), the latter a smug law student. Once south of the border, we get a montage via iPhone/ social media posts, where we see the kids celebrating their last moments together before graduation.
The story kicks into gear at an end-of-trip bash, where Olivia notices the frisky Markie dancing drunkenly with a stranger behind Lucas’ back. You see, there’s an undeniable connection between Olivia and Lucas, even if she’s too afraid to voice her feelings, the goodie-two-shoes normally rescuing Markie before she does something she’ll soon regret. With her friends all pre-occupied, Olivia makes her way to the bar, where she meets a darkly handsome stranger named Carter (Landon Liboiron) who catches her eye. The pair chats until their shindig dies down, with Carter eventually convincing the trope to move the party to an abandoned Catholic mission, where they can continue drinking and mucking about. After making their way to the secluded spot, they run into goofy horndog Ronnie (Sam Lerner), who’d been following Olivia around during the night.
That’s when Carter decides they should play a simple game of Truth or Dare, which starts out innocently enough (with lap dances and girl-on-girl make out sessions) until its Carter’s turn. He chooses ‘truth’ then admits that he lured Olivia and her friends to the mission so that he can trap them in some kind of cursed game. No one thinks anything of it, however, until they’re back on campus and begin to have hallucinations where the faces of those around them become distorted (sorta like ‘a messed-up Snapchat filter,’ as Olivia puts it), these grinning visions demanding that the twentysomethings either choose to tell a truth (that’s tailored to the player) or perform a dare, if they wish to stay alive.
From there the rest of the movie plays like a PG-13 amalgamation of Final Destination and 2016’s Nerve, albeit far less thrilling, writers trying their best to throw enough curveballs into the story to keep it interesting (i.e. the players can’t just keep choosing truth), our protagonists ultimately compelled to track down the origins of the twisted game. Sadly, most of the dares (which should’ve been much more hair-raising) end up feeling like soap opera stuff; Brad is forced to come out to his conservative cop father, Officer Han (Tom Choi), (it’s 2018, who cares), while Olivia must sleep with her best friend’s bland boyfriend (how could she!) if she wishes to survive. Just on that, Olivia and Markie fight then make up again so many times that it becomes rather tiresome. In spite of this, the film is actually entertaining and quite funny (probably unintentional), despite the fact that it lacks in scares — unless you’re 8 years old or find evil smiles terrifying. The ending kinda blows, too, with filmmakers laying the groundwork for a possible follow-up rather than trying to tie things up.
The cast is, for the most part, pedestrian, with a majority of the teens being played by television offcuts. Lucy Hale, Pretty Little Liars (2010-17), is okay as our clichéd protagonist Olivia (who’s harboring a dark secret), whilst Violett Beane from television’s The Flash (2014) does the best she can as Olivia’s bosom buddy Markie Cameron, the pair having become somewhat closer ever since Markie’s father (Brady Smith) took his own life. Teen Wolf (2011-17) alumni Tyler Posey has to be the dullest love interest of recent memory, while Nolan Gerard Funk, House at the End of the Street (2012), is too unlikable as the arrogant med student Tyson, whose gnarly demise winds up being one of the flick’s only chilling sequences. And someone please give Hayden Szeto, The Edge of Seventeen (2016), a leading role already, the talented 32-year-old delivering the strongest performance in the entire picture.
With vanilla direction and stock characters, Truth or Dare is a pretty toothless horror film but still somehow manages to entertain (well, that’s if expectations are low), the feature retaining that energy that producer Jason Blum has managed to imbue into all his projects. Truth is, if you turn you brain off, Truth or Dare is easy to enjoy. Go ahead, I dare ya to try.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Truth or Dare is released through Universal Pictures Australia