It often seems like the concept of ‘adult movies’ (and no, not the XXX kind) is a dying art form, a mere legend from the swinging sixties and seventies when shock and perversion was at the helm of so many landmarks of cult cinema . This idea of films meant to be created for ages 18 and above is now a little seen blimp in the wide-release theatre roster, usually reserved for genre features and the latest Martin Scorsese picture. But now even the humble 15 certificate is under threat with Blumhouse’s latest feature Truth or Dare, a thorough exercise in restraint and parental guidance, with an added sprinkle of teen heart-throbs.
With a cast made up of Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale, Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey, The Flash’s Violett Beane and other stars of Glee, Awkward and Subugatory, it’s absolutely no surprise that this Spring Break gone wrong horror outing leaves all its best bits to the imagination for its PG-13 intended audience.
Lucy Hale takes the lead role of Olivia, who is rather unfairly dragged along on Spring Break by her best friends Lucas, Markie, Penelope, Brad and Tyson. Director Jeff Wadlow really goes for the Generation Z angle here, with a slew of montages of the group drinking, dancing, hanging out at the beach and having regular teenage fun all filmed on their iPhones through Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. This ‘real time’ footage is a clever poke at a sense of reality peeping behind the film’s often too glossy frontier, but is never explored further once Truth or Dare’s real games begin, the integration of social media throughout the film’s central arc would have pleasantly harked back to one of Blumhouse’s more promising efforts Unfriended if they had bothered to use it more.
After their Insta-worthy montage Olivia meets a boy at a bar named Carter, who invites them to an after-party in an abandoned church. Once there, the group plays a game of Truth or Dare that Carter suggests, and it is soon revealed that he lured Olivia there as he needed someone with friends. As her friends begin to panic, Olivia is told that the game will go on after this night as Carter leaves the building.
Back at home, Olivia is plagued by ‘Truth or Dare?’ messages throughout school and eventually realises the game has followed them home, much to the dismissal of her friends who refuse to believe something sinister is happening until the body count starts to rise. Don’t tell the truth or don’t do the dare- or even refuse to play, and you die.
Here ensues the anticipated slasher picking-off scenes, as the group come to realise Carter was telling the truth after Ronnie, one of the boys from Spring Break, dies in a pool cue accident. Slasher movies such as this usually thrive in these moments, a few chopped off limbs here, some broken bones there and enough corn syrup blood to make The Shining look like a walk in the park, and here you have yourself a whole load of fun. Unfortunately Wadlow’s concerns to keep it PG-13 don’t allow horror fans to revel in the enjoyment of some creative kills that most middle-of-the-road slasher flicks redeem themselves with. Here we get only the briefest glimpses of the damage done, the camera turning away fast and avoiding the real horror as Olivia’s friends are knocked out of the game one by one. That is not to say that violence and gore is the only merit of a horror film, but when you have no physical threatening presence such as Freddy, Jason or Michael and your only fear factor is people with Joker-esque smiley faces that are described as “looking like a messed-up Snapchat filter”, then you’re probably need to deliver in another area.
However, Truth or Dare’s most wounding moments actually end up coming from the turns where characters select ‘Truth’. Relationships and friendships are put to the test and often destroyed, during a time when they actually need each other most. Peeling back the layers of each personality and putting them to the test warrants a more human side to the film once it’s done showing off its teen-star acquisitions.
Towards the end though it does seem that Jillian Jacobs and Michael Reisz’s script becomes swarmed in its own idiocy, chucking out the rule book and writing new ones to wrap up the story sharply. The game gets new rules mid-way through to avoid circling forever, they rip up all religious theory and horror movie history on demonic possession and stupidly claim a demon can possess ‘an idea’ and then build to an utterly confusing and unsatisfying ending that obviously makes way for a sequel.
Overall, Truth or Dare manages to be completely derivative but doesn’t have the smarts to keep up with its own games. Not quite knowing where to place itself as a slasher or supernatural mystery makes for a confusing watch, it’s not the perfect marriage of the two that it could have been but instead a mis-match that misses out on each sub-genres defining traits.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her lifesource is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff