“TRUTH OR DARE”
A Horror Movie?
“Truth or Dare” is not campy nor emotionally involving enough to be more than the sum of its awful parts. This is a PG-13-rated horror movie where college seniors are persecuted by a haunted version of Truth or Date, a party game that’s more menacing than Twister, but not as dangerous as Spin the Bottle. Now those of you who follow my reviews known that I rarely give a negative review in the first sentence but have a look at this and you will understand why. In fact, I am surprised that I wrote more than one sentence.
The makers of “Truth or Dare” have tried to make their protagonists just sympathetic enough that we care what happens when they try to impale themselves on a pool cue, or gouge out an eye with a fountain pen. Unfortunately, director Jeff Wadlow and his three credited co-writers don’t humanize their immature subjects and/or make them die amusingly sadistic deaths and the film overall seems to hate itself.
There are a few scenes that serve our canned expectations of who these characters are and what their pre-graduation lives are like. But many of these assumptions are based on superficial generalities. We have several stock types ion. Our heroine is, of course, reserved Olivia (Lucy Hale), a moral-minded, smarter-than-average piece of nothingness who gets roped into one last pre-college spring break by her flirty best friend Markie (Violett Beane) Markie brings along a number of their mutual best friends, including Ronnie (Sam Lerner), a leering but harmless horndog, and Brad (Hayden Szeto), an indistinct supporting character whose most exciting trait is that he’s openly gay. Now here is a cast of famous people, yes? I have never heard of any of them before and after this bomb of a film, I do not think we shall see them once again on the screen.
Brad and Ronnie are the most under-developed characters in the film but they are not as offensive or bothersome as Lucas (Tyler Posey), a prize for Olivia and Markie to fight over and law student Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk—who?) an in-your-face attitude of a garden variety jock, a quality that’s mildly amusing given his chosen area of study.
Ronnie is a one-note joke who screams “no homo” before he is teased with the possibility of giving another guy a lap dance. As with Lucas, Ronnie has a moment where he suggests that he’s capable of growing out of his adolescent need to hit on any woman in sight. But this isn’t college (as we know it—the place where young adults are supposed to learn who they are or maybe who they want to be).
Brad’s queerness is almost exclusively defined by his fear of coming out to his police officer father. The reaction that Brad’s dad gives him after he comes out is supposed to be unexpected, but it’s not, really, once you consider the confusing paternal tone that defines “Truth or Dare.”
Here a sentient game of Truth or Dare is a messed-up parenting tool. These bright young things are going learn to be truthful to themselves, even if it means hurting themselves or others during the learning process. Because apparently, stabbing yourself in the eye when you fail to come clean in a job interview is a fitting punishment. And surviving trauma since considering ways to come clean to your best friend about your not-so-secret crush on their boyfriend builds character.
The joke is on our heroes, but this time, every cruel punch line is seemingly pulled at the last minute. We’re supposed to like these victims, not gasp in horror and delight when they’re compelled to die campy deaths by an evil game.
When we meet Olivia, she seems like a decent person, as she’s planning to spend the spring break of her senior year of college volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. But her friends put a wrench in this and take her to Mexico where they booze it up, beach it out, and French kiss like crazy. They’re very ugly Americans, setting themselves up to seem like they deserve all the devastation and death they’ll soon encounter.
At any moment, a roomful of strangers, your closest friends, or dead bodies could transform into fiends who demand the revelation of sensitive secrets or the performance of mean-spirited stunts: coming out to a homophobic parent, breaking your best friend’s hand, or having sex with your best friend’s boyfriend.
The dares can also be deadly, like finishing a bottle of booze while walking along the edge of a roof, or stealing a cop’s gun and making him beg for it. But there is no mystery here and this is a silly horror flick that is unconcerned with its silliness. But every once in a while there are flashes of the darkness that one wishes that the film had used more often. The amiability of the group of college pals is built upon a delicate web of deceit that quickly comes undone when they’re forced to tell the truth, and the disclosures become increasingly nasty and vicious— one character must confess while having sex to loving someone else; another must declare a cringe-inducing connection to a friend’s father’s recent suicide. In this most cynical and black-hearted of films, even the kindest of people are filled with sinister secrets.