Truth or Die (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Written by Matthew McGuchan and directed by Robert Heath, “Truth or Dare” is a horror-thriller that recognizes expected trappings embedded in the genre and applies just enough small twists to them in order to make the work entertaining. But the film is not particularly horrific, scary, thrilling, or suspenseful. It helps to pass the time but it is not at all memorable.
A few months after Felix (Tom Kane), a shy person who does not have very many friends, is humiliated at a party, five of his “friends” (Liam Boyle, Jack Gordon, Florence Hall, Jennie Jacques, Alexander Vlahos) are invited to celebrate his birthday party at a family-owned, exceedingly posh country estate. These so-called friends do not particularly care for Felix—in fact, they think he is a creep—but they decided to attend for the free booze. However, once the group gets there, they are informed by Felix’ brother, Justin (David Oakes) the army man, that Felix will not be joining them due to flight issues. Still, the guests are free to stay the night and party. Justin insists that they play truth or dare.
Particularly fresh is that not one of five potential victims is completely likable. Naturally, as found in many horror films, each represents a stereotype—the good girl, the drug dealer, the vixen, and the like. But what is different here is that all of them are quite privileged and spoiled and so that is reflected in how they justify, for example, the bullying of Felix.
Notice that as the game of truth or dare goes on, not one is able to acknowledge, or is willing to acknowledge, that what he or she did to Felix was wrong, regardless of the fact that he or she was directly a part of it or merely indirectly connected to Felix’ degradation. Because they are unlikable, some more than others, it is a strange feeling that—at least for a while—I found myself wanting to know more about what it is exactly the antagonist wants to do to them. Oakes plays Justin with a certain level of intrigue. Perhaps it is his voice: it is commanding but never loud, cold but not quite detached. He demands attention in just about every frame.
The moments of violence are not inspired but they are welcome when utilized because they are used somewhat sparingly. This is surprising given that the deadly game of truth or dare, the centerpiece of the picture hence the title, is tethered to the idea of torture. One can make a convincing case that in this film psychological violence plays an equal role as physical violence, if not more so. What really happened the night that broke Felix’ spirit?
Also known as “Truth or Die,” the revenge film might have benefited greatly if the writer were more willing to push the envelope a lot further and more often. The most memorable horror films, especially those that contain revenge elements, are unafraid to make the viewers feel uncomfortable to the point where it is questioned whether the project falls under the category of art or exploitation. For the sake of more intrigue, it could have used a healthy dose of moral relativism.