Truth or Dare Begs The Question: Are You Really The Good Person You Pretend To Be?
Review by Kevin Lynch
* Minor spoilers
What kind of person are you? Would you sacrifice yourself for the sake of humanity? What about your friends? Be honest...
In Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, every kept secret and decision made has dire consequences for a group of college friends forced to confront their inner demons after unleashing a dangerously playful curse. You know, like real life.
After first watching the trailer, I could already hear the collective eye rolling of a thousand horror purists lamenting. Yes, they’re all pretty young people with privileged problems, and that’s the point. The selfishness of our fears is at the heart of this film. Say what you will about the obvious plot conceit attempted many times before, director Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf) manages to pull off a wildly entertaining cautionary tale that touches upon relevant themes of gun violence, bullying, sexual consent, and cultural appropriation best experienced in a packed theater with varying degrees of movie-going etiquette.
Built as a supernatural slasher akin to Final Destination, It Follows and Nightmare On Elm Street, Truth or Dare selectively subverts expectations by delivering its onscreen deaths in unpredictable patterns with suspense drawn directly from its character’s psyche as part of a game of Russian roulette in which the audience is complicit.
Pressured by her best friend Markie, Olivia (Lucy Hale from Pretty Young Liars) skips out on her commitments to Habitat For Humanity for a spring break of young debauchery. C’mon, “before life tears us apart,” she pleads. Off to Mexico they go, and before long they’re pounding shots and flirting with fellow American strangers. Smooth and mysterious guy at the bar Carter promises an after-party without a last call as they stumble into a sacred church to play a hormone-driven game of Truth of Dare (is there any other kind?). Commence obligatory guy-on-guy, girl-on-girl action and a naked dash by Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey as Lucas who finds himself at the center of an awkward love triangle when wannabe doctor Tyson drops some truth about Olivia’s feelings for her best friend’s boyfriend. Oh, to be young again.
The stakes are raised when Carter finally reveals his true intentions. They’ve all just been entrapped in a deadly game. “I’m okay with strangers dying if I get to live,” he admits. The rules are simple. Tell the truth, or you die. Do the dare, or you die. There is no other option. Tag, you’re it.
Returning back to campus, everyone is a bit sore from all the tea that was spilled, but it’s only the beginning as the curse systemically stalks them one by one. The game communicates through ominous messages scribbled, carved and pinged amidst their surroundings, inhabiting those closest to them with the sinister smile of a Snapchat-like filter preying on their most vulnerable insecurities.
The obnoxious Ronnie chickens out on flashing his junk at a bar when someone from the crowd claims, underwhelmingly, they’ve seen it before. Brad is forced to come out of the closet to his father. Tyson’s side hustle of selling pills to freshmen pops up during a medical school interview. Penelope’s drinking problem leads her to tight walk the roof of their house. Tensions between Olivia and Markie thicken as their friendship is pushed to the edge with every round. Who cheated on who? And what really happened the night Markie’s dad committed suicide? All is revealed and more.
Desperate to beat the game, every decision they make influences what happens next and to whom. Early on, Olivia tells Markie, “between you and the world, I choose you.” That is put to the test all the way through to an ending that is both silly and horrifying; a Twilight Zone finale that couldn’t be more timely.
The group of friends are well cast, and the relationships feel authentic. In an opening credit sequence, a montage of Snapchat stories document their carefree Mexican vacation leading up to that fateful night. Blumhouse sent the cast on location with personal devices to capture the footage in an effort to build chemistry before officially shooting, and it pays off (Listen to the ShockWaves interview). I believe these kids, even if the windows of grief for their friends’ passing is short to non-existent. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Bills to pay, trends to kill and demons to conquer.
The presence of guns in this film adds another layer of terror as they provoke mental health challenges and a false sense of security. Truth is a loaded weapon that can be set off with the most unintended consequences.
In a refreshing twist, Brad’s coming out ends up being a rare positive result of the game. For the first time, a weight is lifted off his chest as he’s able to live his truth with love and support from his father. Played by Hayden Szeto, he will go down in horror history as one of the best gay characters the genre has yet to see.
Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare introduces a final girl who defines herself as a caring spirit wanting to save the world. As the story unfolds, we begin to question whether or not that goodwill is overcompensation for a guilty conscience or worse. Masked by good intentions and woke aspirations, Olivia and company may be the last bastions of the millennial generation but their vulnerabilities leave them just as capable of tolerating the pain of strangers as anyone else that has come before.
Rating: 3.5 / 5