Truth or Dare Review

Posted April 18, 2018 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Movies

If there exists a world in which I can say, with a straight face, that Truth or Dare is a good movie, this certainly is not it. After all, despite Blumhouse’s recent attempt to position itself as some kind of prestige distribution company, it really isn’t. With very few exceptions (Get Out and Whiplash come to mind), the company puts out paint-by-numbers, trashy horror films. Its distinguishing factor has always been its ability to make those movies for pennies, all but guaranteeing positive return on investments.

Before I go any further, I should take a moment to dispel the notion that I didn’t enjoy Truth or Dare. Quite frankly, I found the film riveting. The twists are both awful and obvious, most of the performances are bad, it isn’t scary, and most of the deaths aren’t interesting to watch. The script attempts to make up for the lack of scares by just being immensely cruel, right up to the final moment.

In that cruelty, the film teases out a cast at least resembling an interesting set of characters, forcing out their darkest secrets and habits. Personally, I found myself irrationally invested in the main trio of Olivia (Lucy Hale), Lucas (Tyler Posey), and Markie (Violett Beane). As with the slasher films that heavily inspire the film, the characters have a host of cliched problems more at home in a mid-2000’s chick-flick.

Normally, I don’t much care for that dissonance. Unfriended is the quintessential example–a film most of my friends loved and I almost turned off half an hour in. I would rather watch a film interested in subverting the dynamic (look no further than this year’s Thoroughbreds) than one heavily leaning into it.

However, Truth or Dare succeeds in humanizing the core of its cast. Most are shallow clichés, but the film needs fodder. Would I have appreciated caring about the characters who do bite the dust? Yeah, but not every horror movie can be It Follows, and there is a sense of satisfaction that comes with at least two of the deaths. I felt a legitimate sense of tension going into the third act, though, because I legitimately cared about the surviving characters. Most of them, at any rate.

It’s probably worth examining, because so many critics have brushed off the entire cast as poorly handled and hard to care about. In part, this may be a failing of mine as a “critic.” Truth or Dare frequently gestures to larger themes–mental health is a big one–and then does nothing with them. That’s a perfect example of poor storytelling. However, it does have an upside, one that’s unlikely to work on viewers who aren’t dumbasses (read: me).

Or I’m mapping depth onto characters and plot that may, uh, not be there. The movie may not be interested in grappling with the trauma of its cast, but I am, and so out of the blue the film seems to have more depth than is actually there. Again, I’m aware asking the audience to do this leg work is evidence of a job poorly done.

The two leads, Olivia and Markie, are best friends. The movie tells this to the viewer a number of times but never actually shows the two being friends. Instead, they spend much of the run time at odds with one another, and then dredge it up again when it matters for the climax. Rather than take the film at face value, I found myself clinging to the barest scraps of personality and history and expanding that into a believable friendship.

Another instance of this comes just before the film’s third act, when one character delivers a line of dialogue hinting at the psychological toll of the events unfolding. Truth or Dare does a little more footwork here than in other areas, but it’s still lacking. Yet, once again, there are enough scraps there that I managed to cobble together a narrative, reading into the tiniest of details that could indicate something interesting going on in the characters’ minds.

Ultimately, I don’t know how useful this is to the average reader. Then again, where is the utility in me just writing the same review you can read elsewhere? Unpacking why I responded positively to Truth or Dare is, at the very least, a more interesting article for me to write. Hopefully, it’s a more interesting article for you to read as well.

At the same time, I wish Truth or Dare were a better movie. By that, I don’t mean I would have liked it to toy with genre conventions. There’s room in the horror space for films that are somewhat traditional and kind of trashy. However, there was an opportunity for the writers to go a couple extra steps and tell a story that is compelling on its own merits.

Based on what is there, I don’t know if the four people with screenwriting credits have the chops to actually write a great script. I would have liked to see them try, though, because there is plenty of room to explore the characters. Truth or Dare feels like it exists in a state of shock, never quite giving the characters enough time to deal with the fallout of the events.

Alas, Truth or Dare is not that movie. And despite liking it, I’m having a difficult time actually recommending it for that reason. If I’ve made it sound even remotely interesting, well… there are worse ways to spend an afternoon. Then again, Movie Pass justifies my decisions, and I don’t know if I would have bother actually paying for a ticket.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.