‘Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare’ Gets Lost in Its Own Game
“Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare” is another round of that classic parable about good looking students who party in the wrong place, with the wrong people, and somehow stumble into summoning dark forces from beyond. The main characters find themselves facing off with a demon who can’t figure out better ways to torture its victims, aside from actual death, and the plot resorts to the most basic Mexican stereotypes. You have to wonder if the filmmakers were trying to pull a fast one here, because as the movie stumbles along there is the growing suspicion this was meant to be satire. We laugh when we should be gasping. This is the most recent title from Blumhouse Productions, the studio which delivered “Happy Death Day” and the Oscar-winning “Get Out,” yet it pales in comparison to those two movies. It lacks their grindhouse humor or satirical edge.
Two best friends and college students, Olivia (Lucy Hale) and Markie (Violett Beane), go on a spring break trip to Mexico (where else?) with friends Penelope (Sophia Ali), Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) and Brad (Hayden Szeto). While dancing and drinking Olivia meets another American spring breaker named Carter (Landon Liboiron), who invites the whole gang to check out an abandoned mission. Inside the creepy structure Carter suggests they play some truth or dare. But after the game gets weird and some harsh truths are revealed, everyone agrees to call it a night. Of course this is only the beginning, because they have unknowingly summoned a dark force which takes form in others’ bodies, contorting their faces into bizarre, smiling rictuses, and making you choose either truth or dare. If you refuse to play you die. As their lives spiral out of control and the entity insists on torturing them, our heroes try to determine how to find the source of the evil and stop it.
One of the key requirements of a decent horror film is a good villain, be they a serial killer or some supernatural presence. In “Truth or Dare” the demonic power chasing the leads can’t seem to come up with anything truly horrific to unleash for at least the first two acts. Perhaps the real terror is in how when you’re young and aloof you very well could die for the most absurd reasons. In one scene a character breaks his neck after failing to carry out the demon’s dare to show his penis in a bar, Penelope is made to tip-toe on the edge of a roof while chugging vodka, and Olivia is forced to confess out loud that she’s aware Markie has been cheating on Lucas the loaf. These are actions the average Greek lifer doesn’t really need a demon to push them into. The entity itself seems a bit confused about how it wants to carry out its senseless scheme. One moment it’s making someone take a hammer to someone else’s hand, the next it’s making another character come out to their father (with apparently very positive results). Lucas doesn’t seem to mind when the entity dares one of the girls to sleep with him. The legions of the underworld are obviously unaware that open relationships are in these days with the college crowd. At least one character (the doubtful jerk of course) refuses to play and stabs himself in the eye with a pen. That was somewhat scary.
The “boo” moments in “Truth or Dare” are very bad camp. Good camp gets gory and morbidly fun. Bad camp just looks silly. Director Jeff Wadlow settles on a recurring theme of creepy smiles which appear on the face of whoever the entity decides to inhabit. But the smiles are so digitized they come across like terrible botox injections. At one point doe-eyed Olivia makes a similar observation when she says, “they looked like some messed up Snapchat filter.” Near the end is when the plot gets cooking a little as the movie settles into a recycled, stereotyped view of Mexico as a land of ancient curses and rituals involving naughty nuns. It would be criminal to spoil the demon’s actual name, because that would ruin the stereotyped surprise. Yet when we learn what needs to be sacrificed to the accursed being we want to rub our hands with glee, because finally we get a dreadfully gory dare that will be hard to pull off.
What can be said about these performances? In a movie like this it really is about the grindhouse spirit of the material. The actors who do seem to relish their roles are the ones playing the jerks. Sam Lerner very much enjoys himself playing Ronnie, a creeper who can’t help himself but say the most sexually uncomfortable pick-up lines before the playtime demon goes after him. Nolan Gerard Funk also basks in playing Tyson, a grumpy sort who writes fake prescriptions for pill-popping undergrads. Everyone else dutifully carry out their assignments of running, screaming, making out and looking up with astounded eyes from their iPhones.
“Truth or Dare” breaks one of the cardinal rules of preposterous plots, it never goes all the way. If it had truly become a horror show of paranoias and teen nightmares it would have been a killer good time. Instead it settles for just being preposterous. By the end it doesn’t matter who’s around playing anymore.
“Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare” opens April 13 in theaters nationwide.