Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Movie Review: Truth Or Dare (2018)

The plot: While in Mexico for Spring Break, Olivia (Lucy Hale), Markie (Violett Beane), Lucas (Tyler Posey), Penelope (Sophia Ali), Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) and Brad (Hayden Szeto) are convinced by Carter (Landon Liboiron) to join him in the ruins of an old rescue mission to play a little game of Truth or Dare. However, when they return home, the group discovers that the game came back with them and, unless they play along, they could wind up dead.

Hale works out okay as the lead, but nothing really to write home about. Posey gets stuck mainly with love triangle tedium for most of the film, which he handles just fine, and his scenes with both Hale and Beane are adequate in what they set out to achieve. It ain’t much, but it’s certainly better than what Beane brings to the table. Admittedly, her performance is far less of an issue than the character it’s in service to, who is an outright cunt that starts on a selfishly manipulative low and only goes down from there. Funk somehow comes across even worse, leaning so far into his character’s sheer dickery that it’s kind of difficult to separate the performer from the performance. I seriously wish that he would have made the process of watching someone who freely admits to lacking a moral compass to this extent less painful to sit through, but there’s only so much that can be done with a dud script.

Ali as the functioning alcoholic of the group… well, don’t really need to say much more there, really. Again, her performance is fine and she at least works well with one of the film’s few almost-tense moments, but the character has excessive drinking as her personality and that’s it. Argh. Honestly, the only person in the main cast worth caring about is Szeto as Brad. Not only is he not written to be just cannon fodder for the Supernatural Monster Of The Week like everyone else here, the scenes between him and his policeman father (Tom Choi) actually manage to hit home as far as actual drama is concerned. That’ll happen when you’re the only good guy in a group of misanthropes.

Since we’re dealing with the impossibly-tired horror cliché of actively making the main characters as unlikeable as possible, let’s see what other worn-out tropes we have here. We have the main group going abroad for the sole purpose of partying and getting drunk, we have the rather limp opening scene meant to establish some kind of lore and/or precedent for the film proper, and we have music video horror a-plenty. Like, to the point where the literal first edit in the film is to a jarringly loud sound of a car engine, likely done just to get a nice initial jump scare out of the way. That’s annoying enough as is, showing a very heavy sense of desperation from the very start, but it only gets more desperate from there. While the film definitely takes the time to set up its main characters as varyingly heinous, the writers apparently wanted to have their rotten cake and eat it too as they also try, far less intently, to make them more sympathetic. It reaches a point where, as much as I hate the writing style, I wish they had just stuck with these people being unlikeable arseholes. At least then, they wouldn’t have resorted to using suicide and the previously-mentioned alcoholism in quite tasteless ways, just to generate some cheap pathos.

But whatever, the characters are uneven messes; maybe the horror aspect of this film will work out to make up for it. I mean, director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow showed that his penchant for action flicks was dead in the water with True Memoirs Of An International Assassin, so trying his hand at something scarier might be a good move. Worked surprisingly well for McG, so why not? Well, I can immediately think of at least one reason why not: He thought this face was scary.

This cheap, Richard D. James Album cover rip-off that is described in film as looking like "a bad Instagram filter", is something that is meant to terrify us. It’s bad enough that the narrative is centred on an incredibly innocuous party game, but when this is the hook meant to hammer in how scary it is to play this game under these circumstances, it makes the game itself look like the more intimidating option. At least there, the chance of laughing one’s arse off is likely intentional. Outside of the cheap effects work, the best this film can offer in terms of chills is characters dying and/or humiliating themselves, neither of which are shown with any real vigour. This got the equivalent of a PG-13 rating here in Australia, and after seeing how bloodless and sanitized all of this is, I get why that is.
The worst part of all this, though, is that the premise could have been a good bedrock for a horror film. Once we discover who the resident demon is that’s haunting the game, we are given a throwaway line of dialogue (or rather writing in the strictest sense, since this is a point that is literally spelled out for us) that explains that demons can inhabit people, places, objects… even ideas. It feels like it’s tapping into the same verging-on-cerebral touches as The Bye Bye Man, and when combined with the potential of unearthing hidden secrets among a group of supposedly close friends, it could have provided some interesting material. Of course, much like The Bye Bye Man, it never even comes close to sticking the landing on that idea, making it feel like a weak attempt at horror lore to make this stand out against the myriad of other lame horror-thrillers out there. This isn’t helped by the ending, which takes the numerous admittedly-decent moments where the characters talk about why they chose ‘truth’ or ‘dare’, usually as a means to make things a little easier for the other players, and throws them right into the garbage disposal. Instead, we get the same “in order to save ourselves, let’s inflict this demonic presence on even more people” irritation that has become a cliché in its own right by this point, thanks to franchises like The Ring. It is the final insult in a film full of inability to decide how its own characters should act from scene-to-scene; I’m starting to think that Jeff Wadlow should dare himself to actually make an effort if he’s going to try doing horror again. Or, between this and True Memoirs, if he’s going to try doing film again full stop.
All in all, the truth is that this is a complete waste of time. The characters are irritating, made even more so by the script’s flip-flopping on whether we should sympathize with them or not, the attempts at scares are embarrassingly desperate, the effects work is more likely to elicit loud and raucous laughter than anything resembling shock, and the main conceit feels both undercooked and completely misguided, considering the bullshit this film pulls to try and make us care about what is going on. The potential for embarrassment one gets from playing an actual game of Truth or Dare is a bigger emotional reaction that anything this film can provide.
It ranks lower than The Open House, another lukewarm attempt at thrills that at least had somewhat of a sturdy backbone as far as its core concept. Truth Or Dare can’t even get that far, as the closest thing it has to a solid idea is one eerily reminiscent of yet another bad horror movie; nothing unique to itself and nothing that can be salvaged whole-cloth. However, as eyeroll-worthy as this is, it still felt like it cared about what it was doing to a certain extent. The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature not only actively didn’t give a shit about anything, it was more than willing to admit so and even champion it. This is bad, but it’s not “we actively think our audience is stupid” kind of bad.

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