The fourth horror film of the decade to be called Truth or Dare, this is a timely reminder that the Blumhouse business model isn’t just to make Get Out, The Gift, It Comes at Night, Creep and Split … but to keep delivering generic fodder of a certain standard, which no newspaper will ever commission a think piece trying to come up with some twisted reason why they shouldn’t be classified as horror. There are degrees even in this layer of (paranormal) activity … between Happy Death Day, which (whisper it) I enjoyed more than many of BH’s biggies, and The Gallows, which few will even be able to remember a couple of years on.
Directed by Jeff Wadlow, who made the likeable campus slasher game Cry_Wolf a while back and is now back on this sort of gig after the pretty middling Kick Ass 2, this is pretty much exactly the film you expect given the title (so were the other three) and straggles on about a quarter of an hour longer than it strictly needs to. However, for what it is, it delivers – the gruesome deaths are less flamboyant than in the Final Destinations, the rules of the curse aren’t as elegant as those of Ring or It Follows (though full points for the mid-film reveal that this game is being played by extra-dangerous two-truths-and-a-dare rules the last lot of victims themselves picked) and its Snapchat filter gimmick (a gurning smile) is overused, but the script (by Wadlow, Christopher Roach, Michael Reisz and Jillian Jacobs, from a story by Reisz) takes care to play out an interesting set of relationships in the doomed college kid gang and the young cast are pretty good. Olivia (Lucy Hale) is bullied out of spending Spring Break building homes for the needy by her bestie Markie (Violett Beane) so she can come along on a jaunt to Mexico with their crowd – arrogant shit Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), obnoxious horndog Roy (Brady Smith), boozer Penelope Amari (Sophia Taylor Ali), Markie’s cheated-on boyf Lucas (Tyler Posey) and not-out-to-his-cop-Dad gay Brad (Hayden Szeto).
A guy in a bar (Landon Liboiron) suggests they visit a real fun place, which turns out to be an abandoned church, and play truth or dare, owning up when it’s his turn that he’s drawn them into a deadly game with the demon Calex (voiced by Gary Anthony Williams) which means they’ll probably all die. It takes a reel or so of soap opera stuff before the game comes home with the kids and they are forced to utter truths or undergo dares on pain of being killed in freak accidents – though some of the truths are pretty dangerous too. The truths include Olivia telling the whole library that she’s ticked off Markie constantly cheats on Lucas and Brad coming out to his Dad … the dares involve potential falls from high places. Fit in between the set-pieces are scenes of detective work (a lot of net-searching) to track the last bunch of victims – one of whom is still around – and get the backstory on the curse, which involves a mad old Mexican lady who has to scribble her story to be passed on and suggests a gruesome way of ending the cycle of doom. The film opts too often for plottiness over character, tipping it out of the It Follows category and into a clump with Wish Upon or Ouija. However, Hale (from Scream 4) and Beane (Jesse Quick on the CW DC shows) get a little more to chew on than the standard gal pals – and the ins and outs of their relationship is the real spine on which the horrors are hung.