'Truth or Dare': Film Review
Spring breakers get roped into the old game in Jeff Wadlow's thriller, this time with deadly stakes.
Given all the nutty concepts filmmakers have hatched in order to pass evil curses from one unfortunate character to another — really, if I watch that video tape I'll die?! — it's kind of a marvel we haven't yet seen big-screen Millennials play the game inspiring Jeff Wadlow's Truth or Dare: a childish diversion that only gets dangerous if participants are drunk or mean enough to raise the stakes, or if an ancient demon is the one calling the shots. Send six college kids to Mexico for spring break, and you're pretty likely to meet at least two of those criteria. Sadly, the demon in question is not of the fiendishly inventive variety, and this pretty stale thriller will need to rely on the TV fame of top-billed Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars) and Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf, which older readers may need to be convinced is actually a thing) to pull people into theaters.
Let's hope it's only fans of those two actors who take the bait here, as opposed to moviegoers who see the poster's tagline — "The producer of Happy Death Day and Get Out invites you to play" — and expect something even vaguely as daring as Jordan Peele's breakthrough. Opening titles make a point of calling this Blumhouse's Truth or Dare, and press notes praise "a company known for its innovation and risk taking." But this is hardly the place to try to nail that branding down, and a better (if still misleading) pitch would have been, "We sold you those Insidious and Purge movies — help us make this a franchise, too!"
Hale stars here as Olivia, whose destiny as Final Girl is cemented in an opening scene that shows just what a saint she is: She is going to spend spring break of her senior year doing volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, and the only way BFF Markie (Violett Beane) can convince her to ditch that for Tijuana hedonism is by promising that she and their four closest friends will all do two weeks of house-building in the summer in exchange for her presence.
The generic sextet (just diverse enough to fend off criticism, but heavy on the hunky white bros) has the usual dumb fun in Mexico, but on their last night they get into trouble. A stranger convinces them to come party out in an abandoned Catholic mission, gets them playing Truth or Dare, then admits he has just trapped them in some strange curse before hustling off into the darkness.
That hardly rates high on the thermometer of spring break weirdness, and nobody thinks anything of it until they're back on campus having potent hallucinations: One after the other, each will see visions of friends or strangers whose faces distort slightly, Jack-o-Lantern-style ("Like a messed-up Snapchat filter," as Olivia says), before demanding they choose to tell the truth or perform a dare. Or, if they do neither, die.
After quickly establishing that enforced truth-telling isn't the easy way out — much, much will be made of the secret love Olivia has for Markie's boyfriend Lucas (Posey) — and that, in any event, there's a secret rule forcing at least one out of three turns to result in a dare, the movie starts dishing out the supernatural demands.
One early round shows promise, at least as far as ironic-punishment horror flicks go: A girl who drinks too much is made to walk around on a rooftop until she's finished a bottle of vodka, and her friends have an exciting time preparing for her inevitable fall. But that's the biggest surprise in this unimaginative script. Early on in the game, a viewer who's hardly a scholar of the genre started idly guessing the twists to come: Five out of five predictions came to pass, including the revelation the movie builds up as its mind-blowing surprise.
As the friends — the ones still alive, that is — inch closer to figuring out how they got trapped in this curse and how they might escape, the pic not only fails to represent the peak of the young Blumhouse shingle's output (Get Out is not their only inventive film), but gets silly in ways that we've seen onscreen for decades. The only reason viewers won't guess what happens in the final scene is that we aren't producers hungry for a sequel: Laying the groundwork for Truth or Dare 2 requires some seriously muddy logic.
While we're waiting to see if that follow-up ever arrives, thriller fans should prepare for the next contagious-curse pic: The script for Tag — You're It all but writes itself, doesn't it?
Production company: Blumhouse
Cast: Lucy Hale, Violett Beane, Tyler Posey, Hayden Szeto, Landon Liboiron, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Screenwriters: Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Producers: Jason Blum, Couper Samuelson
Executive producers: Christopher Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Director of photography: Jacques Jouffret
Production designer: Melanie Jones
Costume designer: Lisa Norcia
Editor: Sean Albertson
Composer: Matthew Margeson
Casting directors: Sarah Domeier, Terri Taylor
Rated PG-13, 99 minutes