In the 80’s and 90’s horror films featuring an ensemble cast of young actors who get slowly picked off one by one was a staple in horror cinema. Movies like Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street have established formulas that are generally pretty successful. However they’re not bullet proof. Blair Witch proves that even with tried and true elements it is still possible to ruin a movie. Luckily writers Jillian Jacobs and Michael Reisz, along with director Jeff Wadlow were able to properly exploit many of the successful gimmicks and tropes of the horror movies from end of the last century.
The film opens with a group of college friends who are heading to Mexico for Spring Break. While there they are talked in to going to some abandoned building for some beer and a rousing game of everybody’s favorite Truth or Dare. While it starts off innocently some of the truths and dares become a bit bolder because of the alcohol that has already been consumed by those in the group. After some feelings get hurt the group return to their hotels as they are returning to school the very next day. That is when they individually start to experience some rather disturbing hallucinations where they are compelled to keep playing the game for their very survival. What follows are a series of “challenges” our young cast must partake in, be it tell a very uncomfortable truth or follow through with a life threatening dare. Can our young group of heroes find an answer to this unspeakable horror before it not only claims the lives of all of their friends, but their own lives as well?
Horror movies of this nature generally aren’t plot driven as they draw upon old, familiar ideas. What do usually set them apart are its characters, and the cast for this film is a terribly likable one. Starting off with Lucy Hale as our noble heroine Olivia, she is the smart one of the group. That’s not all too surprising as many horror films have seen very strong female protagonists, which is very pleasant given how they used to be played as the helpless victims in older films. Here they are not only strong, but are brave and resourceful, and Hale’s Olivia is all these things. She also does get to show some emotional vulnerability here and there, and while those scenes aren’t actually Oscar worthy, at no time was her acting so stilted that it took me out of the film.
Olivia’s close friend is Markie Cameron (Violett Beane from The Flash), someone who is as close a friend to her as anyone can be. Markie is your average young college girl. She’s flirty, she’s passionate, she’s caring, and she’s a bit naughty. With her you already have some of the clichéd horror tropes that usually spell the doom for young women in movies. And after all of that, her true sense of loyalty to Olivia is unbreakable. Despite moments where she storms out of a room in anger, at the end of the day she is as loyal as anyone can ever hope to be, and Beane’s performance is strangely enough really strong here. Regardless of what she was reacting to, Beane was 100% committed to getting those emotions across, and while I caught myself questioning Markie’s strength of character, it was because of Beane’s acting that I never questioned the validity of her actions and reactions. If this movie is any indication as to the ability of Beane’s acting, then it’s a safe thing to say that she should have a very bright acting future ahead of her.
Rounding out the primary characters is TV horror genre veteran Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf) as Markie’s boyfriend Lucas. His role is somewhat clichéd, but given all of the other formulaic elements in this film we find ourselves readily accepting who Lucas is and what he brings to the story. These movies all have some type of recipe when it comes to the characters, and the strong, brave young man role is definitely present here. Lucas is clearly here to offer his support and strength to Olivia’s mission in dealing with this threat to their lives. However, he is also a character with a secret or two in his life, and while they may not be earth shattering, they do pose some consequences in people’s personal lives. Because of this Posey’s performance isn’t exactly up to the level of a Marlon Brando. In the grand scheme of things, his secrets and motivations are sort of minor, which doesn’t exactly require any tour de force acting on Posey’s part. Nonetheless, he clearly embraced this character type for this movie and did so quite competently.
While there are numerous secondary characters who make up this group of friends, there is one that I really enjoyed seeing, and that was the character of Brad Chang (Hayden Szeto The Edge of Seventeen), a student harboring a very personal secret from his father. The manner in which it is revealed to the audience clearly got a response out of me, and I was very pleased to see a character of this nature in this movie. The character of Chang doesn’t actually have as much turmoil as our primary characters do, which is in of itself quite surprising considering who and what he is in this movie. Because Chang doesn’t have that much emotional angst in his life there doesn’t end up being much for Szeto to do as an actor. He does have one rather good scene where life and death are very much in the balance, and he handles it with great aplomb.
This movie from Blumhouse Productions again shows us a horror film that rests its laurels on already tried and true shticks of this genre. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing, but it further cements what I’ve been saying for several years that if a person wants to see some truly original horror movie content to then seek out those independent films at your local horror film festival, because writers and directors tend to be able to operate without any organizational or big studio oversight, thereby allowing them to try to pursue a film that is closer to their actual vision, than to see any watered down product that only bears the faintest resemblance. Instead we have a horror film that resembles so many that came before, which created for some interesting laughter from members of the audience. It does have a couple of twists, some of which sort of felt like red herrings just to pad the story, but the final twist in the movie was certainly a surprise for me, which could possibly set the movie up for a sequel should Truth or Dare become a huge hit, but in all likelihood was used just to create an ending that would leave viewers feeling slightly and deliberately unsettled. Other than that, Truth or Dare is a movie that is somewhat unoriginal in its plot, and definitely not ground breaking in terms of horror. Instead what we have is a movie that feels very familiar, and once I settled in to that familiarity I found Truth or Dare to be a fun, yet somewhat predictable, thrill ride.
The truth is I give Truth or Dare 3.5 out of 5 smiles.
Don’t believe me? Then prove me wrong… I dare you.
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