Directed by Jeff Wadlow (2018)
by Hunter Bush
Without spoiling the ending, Blumhouse's Truth Or Dare blows the opportunity to have a series of movies where a Demon corrupts kids' games to make them deadly. Just imagine 2020's Duck, Duck, Goose, where a possessed teen is transformed into a horrendous cygnine creature, honking through a bloody bill full of sharp teeth or 2023's Red Rover, whose poster shows a line of battleworn 20-somethings with interlocked arms holding kitchen knives and meat cleavers.
Alas, it is not to be…
I knew next-to-nothing about Truth Or Dare prior to my screening. The plot outline I read online said that "...someone or something is punishing those who lie or refuse to do a dare..." which sounds, well terrible frankly, but I still had hope because after all: this was Blumhouse! I'm not saying they can do no wrong, but over the last handful of years their track record of releasing high quality (if usually low concept) horror has definitely won me over.
I expected stylish direction, inventive and creative scares, and visual punch. I got none of that. I expected that, even if the plot was, to put it politely, thin, that the BH team would not have picked this property up if there wasn't something interesting there. Unfortunately, this was one of my most confounding viewing experiences.
To say I'm a little disappointed in Blumhouse at this point would be fair.
So let's dish about Truth Or Dare. Olivia (Lucy Hale) is strong-armed into joining her friends on an indulgently selfish Spring Break trip to Mexico, but for altruistic reasons: If she joins them for a week-long party now, they'll join her for two weeks building houses with Habitat For Humanity after graduation. That sort of The Greater Good for the Most People thinking is kinda Liv's deal. She's an altruistic sweetheart and a bit of a pushover, which is how she gets conned, once they're all in Mexico, into dragging her whole group to an abandoned mission to play truth or dare. Turns out, Carter (Landon Liboiron), the charming stranger who drew them there, had ulterior motives and as we'll learn "Once you're asked, you're in".
That is one positive thing I can say for Truth Or Dare, it wastes very little time. It's actually a pretty well-packed hour and forty-ish minutes, whether you like the overall film or not. Once Carter lays the basic rules out for Liv and her friends ("Tell the truth or you die. Do the dare or you die. Once you're asked, you're in.") we cut almost straight back to their west coast college as they resume classes. Which is one of the biggest problems for me. If Truth Or Dare had stayed located at the mission, and taken place over less time, I think this would have been a stronger film. But that's not what happens.
Liv and co. resume classes and attempt to go back to their post-Spring Break lives, unfortunately for them, not everything that happens at Spring Break stays on Spring Break. Specifically, a demon who, kind of like Jigsaw, wants to play a game. More specifically, it wants to continue playing Truth Or Dare.
The problem here is that almost everything about this movie only makes sense if it's a movie. I'm not averse to giving movies a bit of logical leeway here and there, but I just can't sustain that kind of willing suspension of disbelief for an entire film. The Demon's first dare is for frat bro Ronnie (Sam Lerner) to whip it out in a crowded bar. The fact that the Demon starts with relatively normal dares only bothers me because once the rest of the cast all get on board with the plot, they instantly escalate to dares to injure or kill people.
Similarly, when Carter info-dumps the rules on Liv, he conveniently leaves out the fact that the game has a house rule: "Two Truths and a Dare" (if two people in a row choose truth, the next person has to do a dare), which only comes up to pull the script out of the corner it had been written into wherein the characters all agreed to only choose "truth" and they'd just deal with whatever revelations came of that. In my opinion, that's a much more interesting movie: the constant no holds barred, unbridled truth-telling begins to drive the friends to want to kill each other or themselves and THAT is how the Demon manipulates them.
The characters have a lot of good, dramatically viable secrets: Brad (Hayden Szeto) is gay and his police officer father (Tom Choi) doesn't know yet; Penelope (Sophia Ali) is an alcoholic and her boyfriend Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) is a med school student forging prescriptions; Liv's best friend Markie (Violett Beane) compulsively cheats on her boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey) who Liv is not-so-secretly in love with. But we burn through this dramatic material like a book of matches, to the point that, all told, Liv has not one but TWO secrets so huge they jeopardize her relationship with Markie.
I'm not saying it is impossible for a young woman to have two such secrets involving her best friend, but I am saying playing that card twice in a very short span of time within the same movie feels like lazy writing. Thankfully, the absolute best part of this film is the cast who manage to be very engaging and charismatic with mostly very little (though in Liv's case: too much) material.
Lerner makes Ronnie a likable loser within his first scene, the type of all-bark-no-bite horn dog you'd expect from a horror movie with collegiate characters. Szeto conveys Brad's homosexuality well and subtly long before we're told through dialogue, and does it without resorting to caricature. Funk is so despicable as Tyson that had he survived for more of the run-time, audiences would have relished watching him get his just desserts. To be fair, while Penelope is mostly reduced to her drinking problem, Ali gives the character a kind of dignity similar actors don't get across at all.
But most importantly, the Liv / Lucas / Markie love triangle only works at all thanks to Hale and Beane's depiction of the friendship between Liv and Markie. Even before we get All The Backstory In The World, you know they've been through the wringer together and come out closer for it on the other side. Thanks to both actresses' strong performances, you can actually engage with their story.
While the cast is the highlight of the movie, the scares are the low. There are the cheapest of cheap jump scares (for instance, a spook-um manages to appear between a character and the soda machine they are in front of; it's effective, but cheap). Oddly the more traditional Blumhouse variety of scares (there's something you don't immediately notice in the background of a scene) are blown by too-quick camera motion (which they then have to over-emphasize via music stings) (ugh).
Worst of all is the Demon itself. It never gets a physical form of its own, instead jumping betwixt players' minds, making them hallucinate its visage everywhere.
Before you decide if that sounds scary to you, you should know that its visage boils down to people doing their impression of Private Pyle's latrine breakdown smile in Full Metal Jacket. Liv describes it as looking like "a messed up Snapchat filter" which is both A) perfectly apt and B) exactly the problem.