Truth or Dare makes the least of its parts, wasting a promising premise with clichéd horror tropes and an uninspired narrative.
Truth or Dare is the latest film from Blumhouse, a production company that’s become renowned in recent years for their stable of micro-budgeted, highly-profitable horror movies. The studio is coming off a banner year in 2017 that saw a number of hits, including Split, Happy Death Day, and the Oscar-winning Get Out. With the genre as a whole experiencing quite a resurgence in regards to its critical standing and commercial clout, there was hope that this latest outing could continue that hot streak and be another memorable offering. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Truth or Dare makes the least of its parts, wasting a promising premise with clichéd horror tropes and an uninspired narrative.
After college student Olivia Barron (Lucy Hale) is convinced by her best friend Markie Cameron (Violett Beane) to join their group on what is their last spring break, they all head to Mexico to enjoy each other’s company and party. During their last night in the country, Olivia meets a guy named Carter (Landon Liboiron), and the two share a number of drinks. As the bar starts to close, Carter invites Olivia, Markie, and their friends Lucas (Tyler Posey), Ronnie (Sam Lerner), Brad (Hayden Szeto), Penelope (Sophia Ali), and Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) to join him so they can keep the festivities going. He leads them to an abandoned mission where they play a seemingly harmless game of Truth or Dare, teasing each other about buried secrets.
When it’s Carter’s turn, he reveals the real reason he invited Olivia’s group to the mission is so he can pass off a terrifying curse to other people he has no emotional attachment to. As he explains to Olivia, the game is real and the players have to either tell the truth or do the dare to prevent certain death. At first, Olivia brushes it off as crazy talk, but when the gang returns from Mexico, she realizes Carter was being honest, and now Olivia and her friends have work together to figure out how to stop it.
On the surface, Truth or Dare sports a similarly interesting high concept to Happy Death Day, but it unfortunately is at odds with itself. Instead of fully embracing the over-the-top ridiculousness of it all, director Jeff Wadlow tries to walk a fine line and play it mostly serious – which is to the movie’s detriment. There are many instances where Truth or Dare comes across as unintentionally comedic (the film even pokes fun at its own “possessed face” effect) instead of frightening. A different approach may have helped elevate the final product, but the filmmakers hardly dig below the surface. The script, credited to Wadlow, Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, and Christopher Roach, doesn’t do the movie any favors either, with some laughable moments and plot contrivances that are forced for the sake of drama.
The main ensemble has a fairly rough go of it thanks to the screenplay, thinly drawing the characters without giving the audience anyone to really latch onto. In terms of the lead, Hale is adequate as Olivia, though twists in the plot make her less endearing to viewers as the film goes on. Her relationships with both Markie and Lucas develop in pretty predictable ways, underscored by painfully obvious foreshadowing that leaves little room for creativity or subtly. This is more a fault of the writing, however, than singling out a bad performance. The likes of Posey and Beane are stuck playing stock figures with little to them than some very basic traits, carrying out arcs that feel unearned.
Their supporting cast fares even worse, existing mainly to just be picked off one at a time to underline what’s at stake. The only problem is there’s so little investment in the characters’ fates that red-shirting some of Olivia’s classmates along the way doesn’t do anything in getting audiences to care about what happens. For stretches, Truth or Dare is a fairly boring affair that meanders to an unsatisfying conclusion. There are no real scares to be had, and most of them are just basic jump scares that even a horror novice can see coming. In an era where horror films are earning more artistic credibility (this is coming on the heels of A Quiet Place), Truth or Dare feels like a step backwards into mediocrity.
Wadlow is also hamstrung by the decision to go for the PG-13 rating in an attempt to appeal to younger audiences. Because there’s a limit with what one can do with that classification, Truth or Dare lacks some truly shocking and disturbing kills that would have helped increase the entertainment value of the movie. The more graphic incidents are either cut around in editing or shown off-camera, with most of the onscreen violence relegated to pretty standard action. One sequence involving a rooftop is a clear standout, but that’s barely enough to make up for the rest of a film that isn’t entirely sure what it wants to be and is poorly executed.
In the end, Truth or Dare is a rare misfire for Blumhouse that proves they are human after all. If one goes into with the right mindset and views it more as a schlocky horror comedy, there could be some fun to be had with it – especially with a group of friends in a crowded theater. However, there’s very little in it to recommend a trip to the multiplex, especially with A Quiet Place available as a far more rewarding option for horror fans. Truth or Dare is a forgettable and generic endeavor that doesn’t bring much to the table.
Truth or Dare is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 100 minutes and is rated PG-13 for disturbing content, alcohol abuse, some sexuality, language and thematic material.
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