Nothing good ever happens in Tijuana. It’s the last semester of college for Olivia (Lucy Hale), a humanitarian who’d rather build homes for the underprivileged on her spring break than party. Noble. But Liv’s best friend and party animal Markie (Violett Beane) implores her to live a little and join on a wild trip to Mexico with Markie’s boyfriend, Lucas (Tyler Posey), and other friends Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), his girlfriend Penelope (Sophia Ali), and perpetual third wheel Brad (Hayden Szeto).
On their final night, Olivia meets a cutie in Carter (Landon Liboiron) at the bar. Chemistry is there, and he invites her and all friends to a deserted spot to play the age-old game of Truth or Dare. After some fun, things turn dark as Carter soon reveals he marked Olivia from the get-go, because she and her friends are expendable in his fight to live. There’s a cursed entity to this game that possesses people to play, and should they refuse or pick the wrong option, death follows. They don’t play this game; the game plays them.
With movies in Sinister, The Gift, Get Out, Split, Oculus, and The Visit, (throw in Whiplash if not solely looking at solid horrors and thrillers), Blumhouse Productions has built up a lot of equity in recent years in the scary genre among moviegoers. They certainly have had their stinkers, but their good is often great and genre-defining and/or genre-bending in some cases. With Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, look at the title. Minus the fact that Truth or Dare is the title of three other movies, there’s a real reason why Blumhouse is in it: This studio is banking on its name alone to sell this movie. Very bad sign.
Ever get that sinking feeling when something starts bad and it won’t get better? In the first five to ten minutes, Truth or Dare uses its opening credits to speed through character relationships in a party montage that is supposed to solidify just how close this group is so that when things go bad, there’s some quote on quote attachment. It’s a horrible misfire that doesn’t paint these characters as cardboard stock but does paint them as uninteresting participants in this game. As it gets going, director Jeff Wadlow (Kick Ass 2) takes a little from the Final Destination series, a pinch of It Follows, a dash of A Nightmare on Elm Street, a small helping of his prior movie Cry Wolf, and a side of Funny Games. Aside from Wes Craven’s classic, none of those movies are particularly great, but all had an idea of what they were and more-or less-established relatively easy-to-follow rules and mythos. Oh, and at least a few of those had creepy moments, which Truth or Dare is largely devoid of.
Wadlow partners with writers Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, and Christopher Roach on the screenplay. This story features young people in the final semester of college. Still a lot of things to learn, certainly, but the way they’re written and how easily they succumb to childish drama makes them operate like they carry the IQ of middle schoolers, which might be selling today’s middle schoolers short. For the bulk of the runtime, the writing team chooses to never define, clarify, or simply allude to the operating rules of this entity until two painfully long scenes of exposition appears in the middle and final acts. All of this culminates to an ending that, to its credit, leverages a bit of foreshadowing early on. However, it’s that type of ending that appears to exist only for potential future installments.
What’s shocking about all of this is how seriously this film takes itself. A level of light, in-the-know fun à la Happy Death Day could have been the ceiling of Truth or Dare, but the dopey smiley evil face CGI, to the deaths (handcuffed by the PG-13 rating), to the pathetically written character twist nullifies all prospects of that. Truth or Dare is the type of movie in which one feels bad for the cast involved, especially Hayden Szeto, scene-stealer in the great coming-of-age feature known as The Edge of Seventeen. Most are already established in television (Hale with Pretty Little Liars, Posey with Scream, Beane with The Flash), but their performances here highlight the difference in TV and film. People can be worked around and hidden somewhat in the former, while the latter puts people at the forefront with little room to hide. Honestly, there are worse performances than the ones here, but no one has that charisma that compels a viewer to be excited to see this through to the end.
Without the “horror,” 2016’s Nerve is a better truth or dare film than Truth or Dare with more style and mildly executed moral/social commentary. Truthfully, even the lowest of expectations aren’t reached with Blumhouse’s latest.
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