According to the opening credits, this movie’s full title is Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare. As those familiar the last couple of years of American horror cinema might know, Blumhouse has been a major power player for the genre, releasing original and refreshing features while managing to turn them into big money makers. The studio’s well-fought pedigree certainly deserves above-title representation at this point, but the choice of project to put this into practice is a major misstep. A modern horror masterpiece in its own right, last year’s Get Out was the cinematic cultural event of the year, certainly worthy of similar branding by Blumhouse. Yet the studio decides to reserve that honor for Truth or Dare, a neutered, vanilla, predictable, unintentionally silly, and intentionally aggravating PG-13 Final Destination knock-off. Someone at the marketing department needs to be fired.
Taking the Ouija route, Truth or Date turns yet another early teen sleepover game into an attempt to lazily scare an audience of similar age. The 11- to 14-year-old crowd might get simple forgettable thrills out of it, but anyone slightly older and with any experience with the genre won’t find anything remotely new or challenging. The premise follows do-gooder college student Olivia (Lucy Hale) meeting a hunky dude named Carter (Landon Liboiron) while on spring break vacation with her “peers” who suspiciously look like they’re in their early 30s. Carter takes the drunken partiers to a spooooky abandoned church to play a game of truth or dare. Wouldn’t you know it, the game follows them back home through some kind of supernatural evil, where Lucy and her friends now have to either play the game or die horribly.
The way the game approaches our hapless victims is executed through a hilarious bit of lazy special effects work. Whenever the evil force wants to force this set of rejects from the “pretty and bland slasher flick actor” catalogue into playing, it possesses people and gives them a creepy CGI smile. To liken this effect to a Snapchat filter would give it too much credit, so I’ll take this route: Open Photo Booth on your Mac, turn on the Squeeze effect, put on a big unsettling grin, and voila, you now have as much CG Hollywood wizardry experience as the SFX crew on Truth or Dare. The fact that this effect appears at a rate of twice per minute really doesn’t help the movie’s obvious goal of being taken seriously as a legitimately scary modern slasher flick.
Instead of the mysterious ghostly force using Rube Goldberg-like contraptions to kill its victims, the way it was in Final Destination, it possesses the character who refuses to play or fails at the game and makes them commit suicide in over-the-top ways. And just like in the Final Destination movies, there’s an overcomplicated system about whose turn it is to die, this time going by the turns the characters took during the game, instead of how they would have died before they cheated death. Truth or Dare follows the Final Destination formula so closely, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the production meetings twirled around the idea of turning it into an official spin-off. Of course the point of the Final Destination movies was to use its flimsy premise as an excuse to stack as many creatively grotesque kill scenes after the other. Because of Truth or Dare’s PG-13 rating, we don’t even get to see the screen splattered in blood and guts, the minimum requirement we’d expect from such a dumb straight genre project.
Director Jeff Wadlow even trolls his audience as he teases us with juicy kills, only to end up with one of those quick, conveniently framed ones that covers the best bits. The first victim of the truth or dare demon is one of those insatiable horndog clichés (Sam Lerner) that used to be a staple of every Friday the 13th film. After he refuses to play the game, it’s of course time for him to die. Wadlow teases us by showing him almost get impaled on a pool cue, but decides to walk it back to a much drier and anti-climactic demise. A midpoint sequence also teases a gruesome impaling, only to cheat us once again.
That scene brings up yet another glaring problem with the premise: The various obvious loopholes that could be exploited in the game. In this convoluted set piece, one of Olivia’s friends is dared to walk around the edge of her house’s roof until she finishes drinking a bottle of vodka. This leads the gang to try to catch her if she falls, while not a single one of them thinks of advising her to chug the contents of the bottle and be done with it. Another dare involves two characters forced into having sex. That’s all the demon tells them, just “have sex.” Okay, but does a handjob count? If there needs to be penetration, is a quick in-and-out enough? As far as I can tell from the ending of the sex scene, no ejaculation occurs, and that seems to be fine to satisfy the game, implying that the demon is a progressive one, and is okay with certain birth control practices. These are the kinds of thoughts that can swirl around one’s head while watching a movie that has absolutely nothing new or exciting to offer.
The Final Destination films were clever enough to recognize that the entire point for their existence was the creative kills, so they never tried to explain the source of the supernatural force, other than merely calling it “death.” Truth or Dare commits the cardinal sin of a film with such a stupid premise; it tries to explain the spiritual source of the game. Is there a demon with a silly-sounding name involved? Does the climax revolve around one of those exorcism séances we’ve seen a million times before, complete with gobbledygook chants as the surroundings crumble as part of empty spectacle? Would anyone reading this predict the opposite? I’ll give Truth or Dare this much credit: Many screenplays have character arcs where the protagonist goes from being selfish to caring for other people. It takes balls to create a protagonist we’re supposed to root for, whose arc is about how she transitions from being selfless to turning into a narcissistic psychopath.
Everything about Truth or Dare is paint-by-numbers, and its existence makes one wonder which middle-school-sleepover-game will become the next PG-13 horror movie Perhaps “spin the bottle”? If it turns out anything like Truth or Dare, it might be a better idea to break the bottle and stab yourself in the neck rather than sit through it.
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Written by : Michael Reisz, Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron, Nolan Gerard Funk, Sam Lerner, Brady Smith, Hayden Szeto
Release Date: April 13, 2018
Oktay Ege Kozak is a screenwriter, script coach and film critic. He works as a reader for some of the leading screenplay coverage companies in Hollywood, and is also a film critic for The Playlist, DVD Talk and Beyazperde. He has a BA in Film Theory and an MFA in Screenwriting. He lives near Portland, Ore., with his wife, daughter, and two King Charles Spaniels.