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Would You Rather: Film Review

Would You Rather Film Still - H 2013
IFC Films

The Bottom Line

This restrained exercise in torture porn benefits from its clever concept and restrained execution

Director:

David Guy Levy

Screenwriter:

Steffen Schlachtenhaufen

Cast:

Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Sasha Gray, John Heard

A group of dinner party guests are forced to play a sadistic parlor game in this chilling horror film.

You'll never play the titular parlor game again after watching Would You Rather, director David Guy Levy’s clever exercise in torture porn that manages to display as much restraint as genuine sickness. This disciplined, low-budget effort about a group of dinner party guests forced to play a particularly nasty variation of the game ironically doesn’t feature enough blatant gore to fully satisfy fans of the genre, but it definitely offers substantial chills for open-minded viewers.

The story’s heroine is Iris (Brittany Snow), a young woman of modest means who is taking care of her seriously ill brother. Since he’s in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant that she can hardly afford, she’s receptive to a kindly doctor’s offer to introduce her to a wealthy philanthropist who provides financial aid for needy people.

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What she doesn’t know until it’s too late is that the benefactor, Sheppard Lambrick (played by genre veteran Jeffrey Combs of Re-Animator fame), doesn’t provide his largesse without a serious catch. It involves being held at gunpoint to play a diabolical version of “Would You Rather.” At first the choices are relatively harmless if cruel, such as offering Iris, a vegetarian, loads of cash for eating a steak, or enticing another participant, a recovering alcoholic (John Heard), with $50,000 if he’ll down a decanter of scotch.

But the game quickly turns more diabolical and violent, with the guests (one of whom is played by former porn star Sasha Grey) forced to choose between either torturing either themselves or one of the others. Among the activities involved are stabbings, whippings, electric shocks, possible drowning, and slicing an eyeball. The body count quickly adds up.

Set largely in a single, well-appointed dining room, the film benefits from its claustrophobic quality that makes the audience feel as helplessly trapped as its characters. Indeed, the scenario would make for one hell of a stage thriller, assuming the brutally violent moments—handled here with relative discretion—could be effectively staged.

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Enlivening the formulaic storyline is the underlying class-conscious theme and Combs’ deliciously droll performance. Investing his character with an entertaining, ever-shifting mixture of forceful menace and feigned fatherliness, the actor is clearly having such a good time that one can’t help resist enjoying a certain degree of complicity with his sadistic game.

Opens Feb. 8 (IFC Films)

Production: Periscope Entertainment

Cast: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Jonny Coyne, Laurence Gilliard Jr., Enver Gjokaj, Sasha Grey, John Heard, Charlie Hofheimer, Logan Miller, June Squibb, Eddie Steeples, Robin Taylor, Robb Wells

Director: David Guy Levy

Screenwriter: Steffen Schlachtenhaufen

Producers: Maura Anderson, Zak Kilberg, David Guy Levy

Executive producers: Morgan Conrad, Andre Royo, Brittany Snow

Director of photography: Steve Calitri

Editor: Josh Schaeffer

Production designer: Rene Sekula

Costume designer: Kristen Anacker

Composers: Daniel Hunt, Baroi Johannsson

Not rated, 93 min