Truth of Dare (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
Horror movies can transcend silly premises, but they have to be willing to go to extremes in order to elicit strong responses from the audience. For instance, Tom Six’s “The Human Centipede (First Sequence)” sounds like a one-note joke that involves three people being connected from mouth to anus, but when one truly looks at the film, it is sick, disturbing, and so concerned with the most minute details, the material—as a whole, not just its provocative images—ends up being lodged in our brain somewhere. It drenches us in a particular experience that we feel dirty by the end of it. “Truth of Dare” is an example of an underachiever. It never takes off from its one-note premise.
Perhaps it is because the intention is to deliver as commercial a product as possible. After all, most of us have played some version of truth or dare at one point in our lives so the picture must be accessible. As a result, the truths and dares are too frivolous to be taken all that seriously; each one revolves around either the threat of damaging one’s social relationships or an injury that can be solved by a quick trip to the emergency room. And because the characters get a choice, or some semblance of it, of choosing either option, the tension that is required to build deflates about every other scene. It does not provide a breathless experience; in fact, it allows the audience to breathe too much and too often because there are stretches here where pretty much nothing of importance happens.
I enjoyed the young cast of potentially doomed pre-college graduates (Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk, Hayden Szeto, Sam Lerner) even though more than half of them are unable to translate their techniques that prove to work on television into something more subtle and cinematic. Line readings and intonations are rather predictable, at times bland, but there is an energy or enthusiasm about them that is consistently watchable. Perhaps if the screenplay by Michael Reisz, Jillian Jacobs, Chris Roach, and Jeff Wadlow had been elevated, these performers might have been inspired to tap into more interesting interpretations of their characters.
Somewhere in the middle of its soap opera-like truths and dares, I began to wonder if the picture might have commanded more intrigue had truths and dares been grander, actually willing to be as sick or twisted as possible. If the writers had been more ambitious, free from pressures of commerciality and getting a PG-13 rating at all costs, the picture could have been a different beast entirely. In an alternate universe, the movie, I think, might have worked as a statement piece about exhibitionism in our modern world for the sake of nourishing one’s self-importance or desperation to achieve evanescent fame or celebrity status. When a concept is fun or universal, sometimes a horror movie is required to become more than a genre exercise.
Still, as is, “Truth or Dare,” directed by Jeff Wadlow, is just another generic horror film that no one will remember past the year of its release date. It is neither scary nor thrilling, just a nice and safe entertainment for about a hundred minutes. The characters do not say or do anything thoughtful or surprising; they simply are meant to react to the supernatural conundrum they find themselves in. Within the film’s self-drawn confines, at least it does itself a favor by taking itself seriously enough because no one else will.