Imagine, if you will, a bunch of drunken college seniors, down in Mexico for spring break, ready to party one last time before the “real world” descends upon them. There is liquor. There is debauchery. There is infighting. There is more than one secret floating amongst the group. There is an evil presence released when they play a game of truth or dare in an abandoned mission which, unbeknownst to them, has a dark and mysterious past.
It is, in essence, the perfect setup for a stereotypical horror film, and that is exactly what “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare” is – a stereotypical horror film.
Directed by Jeff Wadlow and with a screenplay from Michael Reisz and Jillian Jacobs & Chris Roach & Wadlow, “Truth or Dare” has this group of kids forced into a deadly game of truth or dare. The rules are simple – play or die, tell the truth or die, do the dare or die.
Here is the thing about such a setup – it could, hypothetically, work. There is a reason for the stereotype and the opening of the game is suitably atmospheric. The students working out the rules is, similarly, intriguing. What doesn’t work is anything else – the group themselves (the majority of whom are awful human beings), the film’s resolution, the dialogue, the plotting, and the vast majority of the scares.
The college kids, as represented, are generally terrible people or, at the very least, exhibit obvious and fatal flaws. There’s Markie (Violett Beane), who can’t stop cheating on her bland and boring boyfriend, Lucas (Tyler Posey), even when he’s 10 feet from her. There’s Penelope (Sophia Taylor Ali), whose day-drinking is the stuff of jokes amongst the friends and who, despite living in an adult-free house with plenty of liquor, keeps a bottle in her dresser drawer. There’s Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), who forges medical prescriptions and treats absolutely everyone in terrible fashion. There’s Ronnie (Sam Lerner), whom no one likes because everything that comes out of his mouth is sexist and awful. There’s Brad (Hayden Szeto), who is one of the exceptions to the rule but still written poorly since the film treats his sexuality as a plot device. And then there’s the lead, Olivia (Lucy Hale), who is obviously too perfect to be true.
The only suitable conclusions about this group then is that these are, by and large, stereotyped individuals whom no one would want to spent time with, or an incredibly offensive depiction of how college students are viewed, or both. The supernatural villainy that forces the game of truth or dare upon the students is able to use their deficits against them, and that would work better if the individuals had more to them than those flaws. This is a film so focused on getting to the killing and revealing of horrible secrets that it doesn’t bother to build anything else into most of the characters. They exist wholly to be used in the game, nothing more.
There are even opportunities when “Truth or Dare” could be more, but instead it shies away from them. There are serious conversations these students could have about who they are and why they’ve done the things in life that they’ve done—whether they’re proud of them or not—and what it all means. The film opens up the questions via the “truth” option of the game, but then all too often chooses to shy away from the answers… answers that could actually turn the characters into three dimensional humans.
As the film speeds ahead and the reality behind the game is revealed, things go from bad to worse. Things progress to, and through, the climax with little regard for logic or anything that has come before. It is a conclusion included to impress and/or surprise the audience, and not built from the characters themselves.
Full of obvious, easy, jump scares, and just barely enough plot to get from one moment of the supernatural game to the next, “Truth or Dare” may be able to keep audiences in their seats for its entire length, but those watching will not walk away from it feeling as though the experienced something worthwhile. It is silly, forgettable, and a game better left unplayed.
photo credit: Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions
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