On the last day of Spring Break in Mexico, Olivia (Lucy Hale) is convinced by a man she meets at a bar (Landon Liboiron) to travel to an abandoned and remote convent with her friends. There, the stranger asks them to play an innocent game of truth or dare. One of Olivia’s friends remarks with a flippant comment along the lines of, “What, like we’re in seventh grade?”
Just to be clear, they’re not. The grown adults proceed to play the game in one of the more tonally awkward sequences of Truth or Dare (or Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, an attribution tagged on seemingly due to the success of last year’s Get Out and Happy Death Day). The scene is meant to imbue both humor, by way of a rather painful comic relief character named Ronnie (Sam Lerner), and, as the game progresses, tension. Neither of these occur as intended.
At the end of the game, the stranger leaves, warning Olivia before he does so that the game is not over. He then provides the film’s rules as follows: you tell the truth, or you die; you do the dare, or you die; you stop playing, and you die.
Needless to say, people start dying. Whoever’s “turn” it is (even though during the initial game it doesn’t seem like there is any turn-based system, but perhaps this is the round that initiated the order. I don’t have the patience to sit through the film again and find out) starts seeing people’s faces distort. The warped faces ask the player the titular question, and then proceed to have the character do something embarrassing or dangerous. Although, to be frank, the truths and dares only get lethal when the film decides to ramp up the stakes.
Let me rephrase that. The truths and dares only get lethal when the screenwriters feel it is appropriate for the action of a horror film to ramp up.
At one point, Olivia describes the distorted facial expressions as looking like a “messed up Snapchat filter.” Now, either the film is using this as a marketing tool, meaning that there is a Truth or Dare Snapchat filter that people can use now (for a limited time!), or the film in this moment is making an admission of guilt. Either way, the faces are nothing but inadvertently comical.
At its essence, Truth or Dare is a combination of influences and cliches mashed together into a high concept idea that is intended to make the biggest profit. Mostly, its premise resembles It Follows, in that the game follows its players, intending to kill them one by one until no one is left.
Unlike It Follows, which deconstructs a crucial horror trope and gives its characters a sincere chance at meditating on some real thematic material, Truth or Dare only manages to care not about its characters, but its body count.
It isn’t even that the film is lazy. This premise could have yielded some engaging and thrilling sequences. But the dares that these characters are given are not particularly inventive. Sometimes, their intention of thrilling stakes don’t even add up logically.
In one instance, a character must walk around the perimeter of a house’s roof until she tops off a bottle of liquor. Already drunk, it makes sense that she would be scared of falling (not a far enough drop to kill her, mind you). But the game does not care if she stops to drink. A more dangerous obstacle faces this woman late into the dare. However, she could have downed the bottle well before that point and then promptly travel back inside to vomit.
This dare is meant, I guess, to illustrate one of this character’s fatal flaws: her dependence on alcohol. Aside from one scene earlier where she announces that she made everyone mojitos, this dare is the first we’re hearing of this person’s connection to alcohol.
Many of the truths and dares that happen are meant to shore up tension in these characters through there traumas or insecurities. Given that these complications only seem to spring up the moment they are needed for the game to work, it doesn’t come off as character work. Instead, it comes off like the film trying to jam topics with real emotional weight—coming out to a parent, alcoholism, suicide, sexual assault, etc.—into this teen scream about a killer party game. The result is unsettling, but not in the way that the film intends.
The one thing that seems to be going right with the film as it progresses is its loose internal logic. Yes, the game itself is not the most intriguing or terrifying (the love triangle dynamic here is reminiscent of how the main goal of the killer in last year’s The Bye Bye Man appeared to be merely to ruin teen relationships). But it at least has a simple set of rules that were explained and followed.
Until the climax, that is, where firmly established rules are broken and replaced by whatever rule the game wants to implement. I’d be giving away a spoiler by telling you what other recent, ill-conceived horror movie the twist denouement rips off, but this final beat only brings up more logical quandaries.
Truth or dare? Truth: Truth or Dare is quite simply the worst horror movie of 2018 thus far. Dare: see anything else this weekend.
Truth or Dare: D-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)