Jeff Wadlow’s Truth Or Dare is an inconsequential brand of horror likened to Stiles White’s Ouija or more recently John R. Leonetti’s Wish Upon. Actors such as heartthrob Tyler Posey and pretty little liar Lucy Hale entice younger audiences who may find a scream or two in the shallow slog, but hardcore hellhounds will sniff out confliction from scene one. Aggro college-bred stereotypes, telegraphed jumps from miles away, nonsense plot connectivity – hope you like your demon possessions overshadowed by hormonally volatile love triangles and “white girl problems.” And if you don’t? I dare you to reach the credits of this generic schoolyard excuse for genre furtherment.
We open on the altruistic Olivia (Lucy Hale) being convinced to skip her Habitat For Humanity spring break plans in favor of BFF Markie’s (Violett Beane) debaucherous south-of-the-border trip. Cut to their last night in Mexico – accompanied by four friends/significant others – and Olivia is convinced by scruffy stranger Carter (Landon Liboiron) to end the night at a “not far from here” hangout. The party follows, Carter suggests a game of “Truth or Dare” and his intentions are revealed. He only lured “pushover” Olivia to the abandoned mission chapel to sacrifice more players to an already dangerous game. Crazy, right? That’s what everyone thinks until the first death is reported back home.
Much like Wadlow’s own Cry Wolf, much like Final Destination – much like any “rules to be broken” horror movie – Truth Or Dare attempts to craft dark mythologies out of something innocent. In this game, players must choose either “truth” or “dare” when asked in turn. Failure to participate or complete what’s asked results in death. Sounds disastrously fun? Oh yeah, an onslaught of secrets being revealed like how Markie can’t stop cheating on hunk boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey) provides way more entertainment than elaborate daredevil stunts. Remember, PG-13 rating.
So, we know how the game works, but mythos and driving forces are harder to decipher than ancient Mayan hieroglyphics. You must understand, demons are able to possess ideas in addition to locations and bodies (as per the script’s legend). This means there’s a malicious force hunting Olivia’s dumbfounded posse that can whisper “Truth or Dare” as long as text is visible (phones, graffiti walls) or faces in view. Players can only be asked in turn order, but that’s complicated when a former player is introduced later into playtime who inexplicably had his go skipped every time? I’m not going to burden you with spoilers or leaps in logic, just understand that coincidental plot workings only service the scene at hand, crossing lines like a failed game of Cat’s Cradle.
Characters are…largely underdeveloped. Robotic genre prototypes whose empathy and situational awareness is stranded on a planet far, far away. Deaths are witnessed without nary an eye-batting, but introduce romantic drama into the mix and waterworks flow like Niagra. I mean, Olivia’s clan is cursed in Mexico but it almost never dawns on anyone that their solution probably exists where Carter literally says he was forced to lead them? Granted, they just “Google” and “Facebook” their way to revelations because search-bar tasking “Mexico Truth Or Dare” would obviously lead them to the film’s proverbial elder wisdom bequeather who’s located three hours away in Tijuana.
Wadlow’s mismanagement of tone is another nail in Truth Or Dare’s coffin, jumping from young-adult melodrama to digitized Joker’s grin “terror” without warning (ugh, those faces). One minute Olivia and Markie are exhaling fear, the next Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) drops another epically bro-mendous asshole comment, seconds later someone might die, cut to Markie quipping her renegade don’t-give-a-shit hardass facade, insert unsexy smash-cut sex scene – there’s no constant throughline for atmosphere to build. Matthew Margeson’s score dances with lighthearted glee more than morose key tickling, even. It’s like production forgot they were making a horror movie at times, the film’s highest-profile victim not a character at all.
Frustration mounts with every fleeting second especially because Wadlow’s impressed me before. Even some work in Truth Or Dare harkens back to his visual prowess in Kick-Ass 2, be it Penelope’s (Sophia Ali) rooftop liquor-chug walk or Ronnie’s (Sam Lerner) barroom embarrassment. Then you remember Ronnie and Tyson’s absolutely atrocious character designs and it’s back to reality – emotional beats grant minimal reaction, dialogue that of frat-boy word vomit. And those smirks? It’s hard to take an evil spirit seriously when it constantly looks hopped up on laughing gas. Wadlow’s ADR inclusion of “…looks like a bad SnapChat filter…” is no doubt a post-production add based on trailer reactions (a real overdub, I swear it).
Quite frankly, Truth Or Dare may be one of Blumhouse’s worst films to date – easily bottom ten, and I stopped counting how many I’ve seen after hitting “30.” I’d balk at describing Wadlow’s juvenile proceedings as “horror,” sans one well-timed jump scare while rummaging for hospital snacks. Otherwise scenes come together so predictably and off-kilter, unenthusiastic despite tackling themes of LGBT representation, suicide and selflessness. Intro-to-horror audiences may remain ambivalent to misguided thrills, but those expecting even moderate levels of coherence and execution are going to be severely disappointed. Like, plummeting into a crater and never hitting bottom until the credits roll.
/Film Rating: 3 out of 10
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