Reel Opinions


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Truth or Dare

On a weekend when A Quiet Place is playing in theaters, there is absolutely no reason to see Truth or Dare.  Even if that movie wasn't playing, there would still be no reason to see this.  This is a bland and lame-brained thriller filled with characters who are about as thin as the bag your popcorn comes in.  But say you're not looking for a well-executed thriller.  Maybe all you want is a little bit of escapism and a quick jolt.  Well, you still won't find it here.

This tedious horror film is the latest project from producer Jason Blum, who has gained some notoriety recently with his company's effort from last year, Get Out, earning some major Oscar recognition.  Perhaps that recognition is why he has had his production company's name awkwardly shoehorned into the title of the film, so it is now technically called Blumhouse's Truth or Dare.  The film is in the tradition of many a horror film where a bunch of teenagers are menaced by a supernatural evil, and are picked off one-by-one, until usually one or two are left alive at the end.  These movies (which Roger Ebert used to describe as "dead teenager movies") usually follow a set path, despite changing up the rules in each film.  The fun, I guess, is guessing who is going to die next, and how it's going to happen.  Sometimes movies like these can be fun if they're made with spirit and a morbid sense of humor.  But there is nothing here to suggest that anyone's heart was behind this one.  It's an experience designed to deaden the emotions in the viewer and steal their valuable money and time.

Our cast of teens are played by a group of fresh faced young actors with a lot of TV work under their belts, who probably are hoping this will catapult their careers into feature films.  This is nothing new, as many a fresh-faced talent has gotten their start in low budget horror films.  But the actors here don't show conviction in their performances.  They're stiff, awkward, and generally come across as bores.  They're also fairly interchangeable, save for the fact that each of their characters has one big secret or personal vice that will be exploited by the evil demon haunting them before the movie is done.  One is an alcoholic, one is a habitually cheating on their boyfriend, one is gay and afraid to come open to their father...You get the gist.  If you're going to build the characters in a screenplay around a single character trait, you should at least try to make them funny, or give them some interesting dialogue.  I got the sense that if these people didn't have these problems, they would have nothing to talk or think about.

The kids are on a Spring Break vacation to Mexico as the film opens, when the lead girl (Lucy Hale) is picked up by a guy at a bar (Landon Liboiron).  He leads her and her group of friends to an abandoned old monastery for a game of Truth or Dare that quickly gets out of hand, and that's before the evil demon shows up.  You see, it turns out the guy who led our heroine and her friends here has ulterior motives.  There is a demonic entity who collects young victims and forces them to play a deadly game of Truth or Dare, where they must answer honestly or perform its life-endangering dares in order to stay alive.  The film's main gimmick is that the demon can possess anyone at will.  When a person is under the influence of the entity, their face suddenly morphs into a ghoulish grin that kind of looks like they had plastic surgery to make them look like The Joker.  This "face distortion" trick is the main scare tactic the movie falls back on over and over, and it's never scary, not even the first time we witness it.

The whole point of the deadly game is to force people to confess their deepest and darkest secrets, and to possibly turn the heroine and her friends against each other.  But the movie shortchanges itself by keeping some possibly interesting character moments off camera.  One of the young teens (played by Hayden Szeto) is gay, but has never told his father (Tom Choi), who is a straight-laced and conservative cop.  When it is his turn to play the game, the demon forces him to confess to his dad that he is gay.  How does his father react?  We actually never get to see what happens.  He keeps on talking for the rest of the movie how hard it is to be around his father since he told him the truth, but we never witness any heartfelt or confrontational moments between father and son for most of the movie.  Why bother creating character conflict if you're going to ignore it anyway?  Instead, the focus is on numerous scenes where people sneak up behind the heroine, a loud music sting blasts on the soundtrack, and the innocent person who suddenly popped out of nowhere just smiles and says, "Hey, I didn't mean to scare you", or "Are you okay?".

Truth or Dare is such a lifeless experience that it never comes close to generating a single thrill in its audience.  It is not daring, clever, original or smart in any way.  Perhaps this movie could have been salvaged if it had a sense of humor about itself.  I am immediately reminded of the last teen horror film that Blumhouse put out, Happy Death Day.  That movie certainly wasn't anything great, but it knew not to take itself all that seriously, and it had a sympathetic and very funny lead female performance by Jessica Rothe, who knew how to handle this kind of material and make it work.  The cast here are just slogging through this material, and we feel like we're right along with them as we watch it unfold.

There are so many great movies out there right now, why waste your money on one like this that will make you feel nothing?  I've already recommended A Quiet Place if you're looking to be scared or thrilled, but there's a lot of movies out there that are perfect if you want to laugh, be moved, or be engaged.  All you have to do to feel these emotions is stay away from this one.


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