Just because they have an Oscar on their resume thanks to Get Out, don’t expect low-budget horror factory Blumhouse to change its stripes anytime soon. And as if on cue, here comes Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare. Cheap, schlocky trash, it’s the cinematic equivalent of truck stop hotdog; it does the trick, but it’s all empty calories, immediately forgettable, and you’re hungry again as soon as it’s gone. But while it’s trash, it’s also modestly entertaining trash.
Truth or Dare watches like a mash of early 2000s teen horror. Think a Final Destination movie crossed with The Ring with a touch of It Follows thrown in for flavor. That might be more accurate. And I don’t mean the early Final Destination movies, which played things relatively straight. I’m talking about the later chapters, when they were all about inventive ways to kill young people and mayhem.
When a group of college friends plays an innocent game of truth or dare in an abandoned mission while on spring break in Mexico… No, no, no. *Record scratch.* They should have known they were totally fucked from word one. Have these kids never seen a horror movie before? It should have been brutally obvious they were into something bad and that this vindictive game would follow them home, not allow them to stop playing, and pick them off one by one. If they didn’t know that, our education system and society are irreparably broken.
Most of your typical character types are present and accounted for, played by a solid crew of young actors. Olivia (Lucy Hale, Pretty Little Liars) is the perfect good girl, at least on the surface. Her BFF Markie (Violett Beane, The Flash) likes to party a bit too much and cheat on her hunky, smitten boyfriend, Lucas (Tyler Posey, Teen Wolf). But she doesn’t party as hard as Penelope (Sophia Ali, Everybody Wants Some) or her pre-med man Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk, Counterpart), a weird narcissistic sociopath in their midst. And rounding out the crew is Brad (Hayden Szeto, Edge of Seventeen), who’s pretty much the gay friend and not much else.
Overall, the cast is fine. There’s a reason Hale has become a minor star, she’s easily the most charismatic of the bunch. But for the most part, they fill the roles they fill and die the deaths the script tells them to die as a vindictive game haunts them and splashes maniacal, Willem Dafoe-ish grins across their faces as they go. It’s a weird choice, much more comical than harrowing or scary. But they go with it, for good or ill.
And in fact, that can be said about the movie as a whole. Truth or Dare is much more absurd and funny than it ever is scary or terrifying. There’s relatively little tension outside of a few individual moments, but even then, the paint-by-numbers construction of the script never breaks through and becomes anything else. Not every horror movie has to be a meta deconstruction of genre norms or reinvent the wheel. It never tries to, but it’s also never anything more than a generic shrug.
Truth or Dare’s greatest attribute is that, even though it’s a little long at 100 minutes, it doesn’t slow down. We clip right along, never bogging down too long in specifics or giving the audience space to pause and question what’s going on. It knows the formula, how to avoid, or at least skip over the traps, and drags us do the finish line.
And it grows increasingly unhinged as it progresses. Gleefully so. The final act is hoot. Director Jeff Wadlow (who’s had a weird career, with Kick-Ass 2, Never Back Down, and True Memoirs of an International Assassin on his CV) and the four credited writers go totally nuts. We get demons, sacrifices, deep-seated secrets that aren’t even hinted at, the list goes on. The film fully embraces the absurdity and is better for it. And they have the gall to go all-in on the end. It doesn’t really fit with the remaining characters or the rest of the movie, but it’s so WTF that I have to applaud the sheer go-for-broke-ness of the decision. Sure, they paint themselves into a corner with no hope of escape, but still, slow clap for them.
How much enjoyment you get out of Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare hinges on your tolerance for trashy horror nonsense. It’s generic and bland, but also goofy and ridiculous—it’s far hokier and more comic than scary. With a $5 million budget, this kind of cheap horror fare comes out, has a solid box office weekend where it recoups, and disappears from the collective consciousness.
Truth or Dare is exactly what it sets out to be. Blumhouse has made a mint providing this type of momentary horror distraction. And that’s precisely what it delivers. It’s not good, but it’s far from the worst. Watch it with a group of friends—and a few drinks probably won’t hurt matters—and it’s a reasonably entertaining time. [Grade: C]