TRUTH OR DARE Review: Making The Most Of A Stupid Premise

This movie had to have been made on a dare, right?

I kind of can't believe that this movie exists. I mean, lots of movies with really dumb premises are made all the time, but this is a horror movie built around the idea of a killer game of Truth or Dare. Pardon me if a game designed to make thirteen year olds kiss each other or confess their crushes doesn't exactly inspire fear or animus beyond basic adolescent embarrassment. And yet, here were are with Blumhouse producing a straight-faced version of that very concept, casting twenty-somethings in the untenable situation of having to play a demon-possessed game where lies or refusal to do potentially deadly dares will inevitably result in their own demises.

And as much as I hate to say it, I have to pick Truth: Truth or Dare isn't half bad.

That success is largely based on a well-constructed screenplay. Olivia (Lucy Hale) is guilted by her friends, including her best friend Markie (Violett Beane) and Markie's boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), into joining them for their final college spring break down in Mexico. While there, Olivia meets Carter (Landon Liboiron), who convinces the group to join him for a game of Truth or Dare at an abandoned Catholic mission. After everyone does an appropriate amount of goofing off, Carter is finally asked what his intentions are, and adhering to the rules of the game, he tells them that he lured them there because he's comfortable with other people dying if it means he gets to live. As he leaves, he warns Olivia that their survival depends on adherence to the rules of the game, or else she and her friends will die.

Now, the execution of this game is kinda goofy to see play out. The players either hallucinate their peers asking them to pick truth or dare or the people around them actually become possessed – the rules on that are somewhat unclear – and should they fail to follow through on their choice, the victims will themselves become possessed and kill themselves. The way this possession is visualized is through a digitally-enhanced smile and a glow in the eyes, and while it's a really low-rent way of representing possession and gets the point across, it is a little hard to take seriously. But underneath that strange visual choice is a tightly written story of the lies we tell each other for self-preservation and the lengths we're willing to go to preserve them.

You might ask yourself why participants wouldn't just continue to pick Truth, as embarrassment is less harrowing than self-endangerment, but there's a well-written solution to that issue that forces the players to choose Dare on occasion. But the logistics of the game are less important than the emotional cores of the characters, who have a surprising amount of depth for what is essentially just a story of a bunch of assholes getting their comeuppance. Olivia is wracked with guilt over secrets she keeps from Markie to preserve their friendship, Markie is scarred by her father's suicide and is emotionally unstable because of it, and Lucas is caught between an attraction to both Olivia and Markie when he truthfully only loves one of them. These are soap opera level theatrics, but the melodrama is informed by thought out and carefully planned arcs with so much set-up and pay-off juggled within that it's kind of impressive in how it all comes together by the end.

It is a small shame that Truth or Dare opts to take itself so seriously, though. This is the sort of premise that could take off in really strange and over-the-top directions if given the proper license, and as it is, the deadly dares and tortured truths are so informed by character dynamics and backstory that they aren't able to get truly bonkers with the lengths the victims must go to in order to survive. However, I have to admit this is less a problem with the film itself and more what I would personally have preferred to see.

You have to grade the movie as it's made, and for what it's worth, Truth or Dare is a legitimately decent film. It's not mind-blowingly well performed and the dialogue is at times dripping with cheese, but the sheer baseline professionalism and competence at play for writing and directing a film with a villain as asinine as an evil children's game is actually pretty impressive. Those seeking to dare their friends to see the worst movie possible this weekend will probably be disappointed by how truly good a movie Blumhouse ended up making with this dumb, dumb idea.

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