Sunday 15 April 2018

Truth Or Dare

The Dare Essentials

Truth Or Dare
2018 UK Directed by Jeff Wadlow 
UK cinema release print.

So, yeah, okay... I’ll admit I was expecting the latest horror movie from the Blumhouse studios to be a generic, teenage slasher movie and so, it would be true to say, I wasn’t expecting much from this one. However, I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out that... not only is it not really a slasher movie (although people are still somehow trying to call it that despite, in some instances, having already seen it themselves) but it’s also not technically a teen movie in that, although all the main protagonists are college aged teens, the majority of the actors playing them are a lot older than that.

Truth Or Dare is, in fact, a properly full blown horror movie but with the emphasis on fun rather than all out horror. I mean, sure, there is a body count element to this but the overall emphasis on this one is an overwhelming sense of suspense as the audience waits to see where the next supernatural attack will be coming from and if anybody will die as a result.

The film starts off on one last ditch spring break vacation by a group of student friends to Mexico before they all go their separate ways and the opening credits montage is, it has to be said, sickeningly ‘teenage selfie and fun times’ style shenanigans to emphasise the point that these are best friends. However, this is preceeded by a pre-credits sequence which is actually quite strong... where a random teenager, who we will obviously meet again later in the film, is compelled to set a lady on fire in a grocery store, against her best intentions.

After the opening montage, the group of friends hook up with an ‘outsider’ character and are compelled to play a game of Truth Or Dare in an old, creepy mission. However, the end of the game does not go as planned and, days later, once our friends are back from their summer vacation, the game follows them back. And by that I mean, they are haunted by the game and the next challenge could come from anywhere, quite often from one of their friends, as a character's face will suddenly distort into a rictus grin that looks like a demented snapchat filter and compel them to take a truth or dare. The rules are simple... if they don’t tell the truth or fail the, often quite lethal, dare... they will be suddenly compelled to take their own life and, once the body count starts to build and the friends realise that this is a) really happening and b) not going to stop even though it is tearing their relationships apart and setting them at each other’s throats... the film carries on from there as they try to unravel the clues to, hopefully, help them stop the game in its tracks.

Now I saw a comment on here that the writers kept changing the goalposts of the film as it goes along when it comes to the internal logic of the rules of the game but, as far as I could tell, that really isn’t true. The filmmakers obviously knew that they had to somehow write themselves out of the obvious character reaction where everyone will take a truth rather than a dare and... well I think they got around that problem quite smartly, giving the tweaked rules a proper background later on in the story, as our protagonists find out, along with the audience, certain things about the accidental creation of a new variant of the game.

Now, as I was speeding towards the ending in this fast paced, fun filled movie, I realised that it was an old horror trope going under a new coat of paint and that, the brilliance of the title and plot set up is that it’s a little bit of misdirection. Without going into spoiler territory I will just say that this is yet another version, in essence, of M. R. James’ famous tale Casting The Runes... which was adapted in various forms as a TV play (reviewed here) and a great movie called Night Of The Demon (or Curse Of The Demon depending on which print you see... a short review of that one can be found here). Of course, there have been many other ‘reboots’ of this main ‘pass the curse on/viral curse’ movie over the years, many of which don’t usually admit (as this one kind of doesn’t) that they are inspired from a very specific source... such as the Ringu films (or the Ring films in the US versions), Drag Me To Hell and It Follows (reviewed here). The premise usually makes for some interesting horror movies and this one is certainly no exception.

The film is nicely shot although it is, it seems to me, a little over reliant on hand held camera to give it that specific, ‘enquiring third person’ feel. It’s pretty much sustained throughout the movie but, I have to say, they really make it work well here so not really too much of a complaint from me, I guess. The other thing this has got going for it, which goes hand in hand with the strong cast of main protagonists such as Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk and Hayden Szeto... all of whom give great performances... is something it shares with one of my favourite horror films of recent years, The Conjuring (reviewed here). That quality being that most of the main protagonists are actually genuinely nice people. You really wouldn’t mind hanging out with this group and so, of course, you actually do begin to care about them when they start dropping like flies.

Now, the film had maybe one missed opportunity that I could see. This is when a mute character gives the surviving characters a potential ‘magic bullet’ solution to their problems. As she scribbled various notes to the lead actress I was just waiting for one of the notes to say ‘Truth Or Dare’ but, alas, it didn’t go there... which I feel is kind of a shame, actually.

However, the other great thing this one has going for it is, it has to be said, a fantastic ending. I actually didn’t see this one coming and I was really pleased with how things were wound up here. I think it’s been commented that this ending sets it up for a sequel but, honestly, I don’t see how the potential follow up with the consequences implied here could possibly or credibly be returned to in a gripping or properly character focused story. It is, however, a really nice conclusion to the film and... well, let’s just say that, sometimes, magic bullet plans don’t always go the way you think they’re going to go.

And that’s me done on this one. Truth Or Dare is definitely recommended for horror fans, for sure... especially those who like ‘viral curse’ movies. I really loved this one and it helped that the teenage characters weren’t all brats. One to go to the cinema and see for sure. Go on... I dare you.

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