Released: 12th April 2018
Seen: 9th May 2018
The horror genre is a weird genre, every horror fan should be able to admit that on some level. It’s a genre that made a talking doll into a villain on at least three separate occasions. It’s a genre that looked at a William Shatner mask and said: “Yeah, I can make that creepy”. It’s a genre that has had its ups and downs in periods where it was the hottest genre around and then slumps where every film with the word “Horror” attached would be basically cinematic poison. Right now we seem to be hitting a good point in horror with the critically acclaimed Get Out last year and the incredible A Quiet Place out recently. We also have great looking films in the genre due out this year, the newest in the Purge series, a reboot of Halloween, a new Predator film. This year is going to have some really good fun horror films… it also has Truth or Dare, a film that exists.
The story is about as basic as you can expect, a bunch of friends go down to Mexico for spring break (Because of course, they’re going to go on spring break, that’s when all the weird things happen) and while they’re there a random stranger offers to show them something cool. What he shows them is a run-down mission and gets them to play truth or dare. All seems fine at first but it soon becomes obvious that the game is real and is going to make them all play, getting more and more elaborate with the truths and dares until they all die or they find a way to somehow beat the curse. They have to, of course, handle this while they’re all dealing with college… even the 30-year-old who looks so out of place among the 20-somethings that it’s kind of hilarious.
The casting on this is mostly fine, it’s got people you might know from the MTV shows like Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Nolan Gerard Funk and that guy from Hemlock Grove who you kind of recognize, but you don’t really because you didn’t watch that show. Also, random 30-year-old guy among all these teens who shockingly looks out of place, he’s not as well known as the other cast might be which is a shame because he is a good actor and not only is it nice to see some Asian representation, he’s a closeted gay character which I also appreciate… I just think maybe they should’ve hired someone a touch younger who looked like he would be friends with everyone else instead of their babysitter. It’s noticeable enough that I have to address it, there are at least a few people on TV right now in the appropriate age range that they could’ve cast easily. It does help that this cast is, for the most part, playing likable characters who we enjoy watching. There’s one character called Ronnie who is kind of the sleaziest sleazebag that ever sleazed on people, but other than him everyone else is likable and the cast does sell us on their friendships pretty effectively so that when things start going down and people die, we care.
Or, maybe we would if the deaths were decent. One of the problems with this genre is that some studios like to make horror movies more widely accessible… AKA, PG-13. This film is so incredibly bloodless that I’m actually impressed at how much they didn’t even try. There are scenes where people get shot in the gut and you would swear that they just got poked in the stomach with a limp noodle, that’s how bloodless it is. There are no real attempts to put anything shocking on screen, it’s all either off screen or barely even trying to be visually shocking. I’m not asking you to go all in on the gore, you don’t need to pull Tom Savini level tricks out of your back pocket but I would like to actually be shocked when a horrific moment happens. What shouldn’t happen is that I see someone getting shot with a gun in the gut and my instant reaction is “Just a flesh wound”.
The concept for the look of the evil force that’s making all this happen might be the dumbest aspect of the movie. So, everyone in the film gets Snapchat filter faces whenever they’re possessed by the game… that’s not even me suggesting that as a joke, that’s literally how they describe it in the film. It’s maybe a look that’s effectively scary once, an uncanny valley-style expression can elicit a bit of discomfort if done effectively but after a while it becomes comical. It’s something that they should’ve used sparingly, they don’t even show the goofy face in the opening scene which is easily the most effective sequence in the film. When it’s used as often as they used it and as badly as they used it, it goes from creepy to just bland.
What really breaks my heart about this movie is that there is some potential here, there are some genuinely good sequences. Whenever someone actually gets a real insane dare, there’s tension that actually works. One sequence in particular just involves walking around on a roof and it has some incredible tension, buildup, misdirection, everything you want from a horror movie. You think it’s going to take you one way but it surprises you and you’re elated and then… we’re back to the snapchat filter faces and pointless drama between two best friends who seem to be fighting over a guy, because that’s a storyline we haven’t seen roughly seven-billion times in this genre. Moments of petty personal drama are often a part of this genre and maybe that’s OK in some parts, but seeing these two ‘friends’ continue having stupid pointless arguments while they’re trying not to die is irritating as hell.
This film is not awful, it’s absolutely not awful. I dare say that it’s actually a half decent time… however, it’s also rehashing the same ground that every slasher movie in the 90s already did and it’s not doing it as well as they did. It’s not only bloodless, it’s gutless. It hasn’t got the guts to actually take this idea to its logical extreme. When it does, it’s effective. There are two major sequences in this film where they really push the PG-13 rating to its limit and they are the most effective moments in the film because they are genuinely intense and make the audience feel something. Sadly, the majority of the film is inoffensive and bland enough that any potential goodwill the film has is squandered in favour of hoping that it can coast by on its concept alone without actually using that concept in a way that’s interesting.