The beauty of the horror genre is that in the right hands any concept, item or idea can be made into a frightening story. Like several films before it (i.e. “Ouija”, “Hide and Seek” and “Would you Rather”) the latest horror offering from Blumhouse, “Truth or Dare”, takes a classic child’s game and turns it into a nightmare scenario filled with gruesome images and symbolic deaths. “Truth of Dare” is one part creative and another part generic, but is it more original than cliché? Read on to find out! This is my review of “Truth or Dare”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Truth of Dare” focuses on a group of friends in Mexico on spring break. The group consists of nice girl Olivia (Lucy Hale), her best friend and chronic cheater Markie (Violett Beane), Olivia’s crush and Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), Brad (Hayden Szeto) who is hiding his homosexuality from his father, Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) a moody medical student who makes money giving out fake prescriptions, and Penelope (Sophia Ali) Tyson’s alcoholic girlfriend. During a night of fun the six friends, along with another student named Ronnie (Sam Lerner), are led to a ruined mission where another man named Carter (Landon Liboiron) coaxes them into a friendly game of Truth or Dare. After picking truth Carter is forced to tell the group that he dragged them into a deadly game and leaves them with a warning to tell the truth, do the dare or die. After returning home the group finds that they are still playing the game thanks to a demon who uses nearby people to create hallucinations asking each player to pick truth or dare in the order in which they played in the mission. Failing to satisfy their chosen option leads to deadly consequences and the friends try to find a way to end the game as one by one they are forced to deal with even darker truths and more dangerous dares that test their friendships and their willingness to do put other’s lives at risk for their own security.
“Truth or Dare” is in some ways a pretty typically acted horror flick with some rising names in film showing some of their talent without really getting any favors from the script. That’s not to say the acting it bad though. “Truth or Dare” does sport a cast of unique characters as each actor plays off their personality traits and individual story arcs perfectly. Lucy Hale leads the cast as Olivia, a “pushover” who is always too nice and unwilling to do what she needs to if it hurts someone else and her reluctance to be the bad guy makes her a complicated character and one who finally has to face her dark secrets. The other two leading figures in this game are Tyler Posey’s Lucas and Violett Beane’s Markie who are Olivia’s crush and best friend respectively and just happen to be dating each other at that. These three characters lead the charge to try and win a virtually unwinnable game and create a complicated three-way relationship that is developed through most of the dares and truths. The actors do their best with what they have to offer and while it’s not really Oscar winning work they are effective leading figures who carry this film well and have a decent and committed supporting cast to back them up.
That supporting group is made up of the likes of Hayden Szeto, Nolan Gerard Funk, Sophia Ali and Sam Lerner who, like the three leading actors, all embrace different personalities and have their own conflicts and story arcs that play into the dares and truths they have to face. I guess what I’m trying to say is “Truth of Dare” COULD have very much been a lot worse in terms of performances. Everyone involved dedicates themselves to capturing the struggles and individual stories of their characters which is a good thing because these traits play heavily into the dares and truths we see in the movie. I enjoyed the diversity of the cast and felt that while it seems contrived that such a wide array of different personalities would actually hang out with each other they all fit well into the story and even though they’re not the best performances you’ll see in 2018 every actor and actress understands and embraces their character motivations, vices and personalities which makes “Truth or Dare” a lot more watchable than it probably should have been.
“Truth or Dare” gets points for creativity. It owns its game-themed setup and adapts it well to a terrifying story that we, the audience, can get behind as a frightening possibility brought to life on the big screen. Despite the simple premise of the actual game, the movie “Truth or Dare” get creative by adapting a few new rules that complicate things for the players and makes things more and more personal as the dares and truths unfold. I found it to be a brutal film to watch that had me feeling sympathy for each person who died and each person who had to face their vices. What’s odd is I also found the game to be a form of justice as the terror being put upon these teenagers seems to be geared more towards making them face their inner demons rather than simply torturing them with random suggestions. This made me think and contemplate whether or not the torture of these teenagers might actually be a deserving just desserts for their own cowardliness or hidden demons. It’s an inner conflict I didn’t expect this movie to bring out and it makes for a fun and unique story that stays true to the spirit of truth or dare as a party game but allows it to be unapologetic and believably terrifying at the same time.
I also appreciated that despite it’s PG-13 rating “Truth or Dare” rides the line and shows us some gruesome and creative death scenes that are symbolic and cringe worthy in all the right ways. There’s not a lot of blood and camera angles are used to tone down the gruesomeness of the scenes, but we still see plenty and I turned away more than once dreading the punishment about to unfold on those playing the game. It’s things like this that make “Truth of Dare” an admittedly fun movie. Despite some problems I’ll touch on below, this film seems to understand its audience and what it needed to be in order to capture the nature of its crisis. Playing a game where a demon asks you to reveal your darkest secrets or face your worst vices just sounds like a horrifying dilemma, but the creativity and commitment to the theme that were incorporated into “Truth or Dare” allows it to go beyond the basic nature of its premise to give us something that feels unique and never gets boring.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
That said though, while “Truth or Dare” is fun in an escapism, cheep scare sort of way it doesn’t really reach new heights in terms of presentation. Don’t confuse presentation with execution here. In terms of the theme and concept “Truth or Dare” executes its story just fine. However, the presentation doesn’t really give it any more spice or pop than any garden variety horror flick, especially one from Blumhouse. There are times where “Truth or Dare” feels cheep and rushed and although it’s a far cry from straight-to-video quality horror it’s pretty much in line with any generic horror flick of the last decade in terms of pace, cinematography and script. Honestly the fun concept and decent acting and character development are what make this movie stand out because otherwise it wouldn’t be much of anything special.
What disappointed me most though was the way the movie resolves its crisis. Over the course of the film the friends seek a way to stop the game and they do eventually find a way to put an end to the demon. It’s then that “Truth or Dare” kind of abandons its fun theme to delve more into generic supernatural film territory. The required process for defeating the demon and even the demon itself are heavily borrowed from past horror movies. The solution they discover does lead to a race to the end scenario and a pulse pounding finish with another satisfyingly brutal scene of violence AND an epic twist in the final moments, but I couldn’t help but see the actual solution to the problem the teens try to employ as both contrived and cliché. The writers clearly put most of their thought into how the game could be presented and little thought into creatively ending the carnage. This makes for a sub-par and slightly disappointing finale that betrays the quality fun of the film’s first two acts. I also felt that the film’s justification in the finale of self-preservation was flawed, but in order to delve into that I’d have to spoil the ending so rather than dig into that gripe with the film I’ll let you decide how morally acceptable the finale is for yourself.
It’s not great, but “Truth or Dare” isn’t quite as bad as it could have been. To be honest this movie is SO much better than it deserved to be and that’s due partially to the committed performances that fully flesh out the personalities and vices of the characters and the execution of adapting the truth or dare game to a horror-themed story. It’s a fun escapism horror flick, but it also delves into generic territory with a script, directing and cinematography that would feel right at home in literally any other low-budget horror movie. Add to that a poor conclusion that fails to properly incorporate the supernatural element to the finale and you have a movie that’s just as bad as it is good. It’s not horrible, but it’s not great. It’s satisfyingly average and I give it a lot of credit for keeping my attention throughout the duration of its run time and offering a fun, if flawed, horror adventure that was memorable in its own way. It’s not a film that really adds to the horror genre, but it gets the job done and just might make you think twice before you agree to any truth or dare games in the future.