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Thursday, 12 April 2018

Review: Truth or Dare

"Horror" is a label that covers a wide variety of movies. Some, like the current A Quiet Place, are all about expressing a scary concept as purely as possible; others, like Get Out, use horror as a way to crack open wider issues. And then there are the ones where dumb but sexy people get killed off one by one. That's Truth or Dare. It's not very good.

To be fair, parts of Truth or Dare aren't all that bad, even if the story isn't exactly promising. When a group of uni students led by Olivia (Lucy Hale), each with their own various personal quirks (one's a drunk, one's a med student selling drugs on the side, there's a love triangle, etc), go on spring break to Mexico, they end up in a creepy abandoned mission playing truth or dare with a stranger who then reveals they're now all cursed to play the game until they die. They go home, forget about it, and then they start to die.

The basic idea - that instead of possessing a person or place, a demon has possessed a game of Truth or Dare - isn't automatically a bad one, even if throwing in previously un-mentioned rule changes half way through isn't great and the "messed-up snapchat filter" face the demon gives people when speaking through them ranges from slightly creepy to downright laughable. The plus is the demon is attacking the bland teens on two fronts; either they do some stupid prank that'll probably get them killed, or they have to say something horrifically hurtful or dangerous. Unfortunately, their personal issues are largely out of The Bumper Book of Soap Opera Cliches; these are persons with no personality.

(shout out to Ronnie, the douchebag who appears out of nowhere to insert himself uninvited into the cool kids' Mexico spring break, does nothing but hit on every women on screen, and is the first to die. Guys like him are never the main focus, but they're always the most entertaining to watch)

These films are all about the set pieces and there are a handful of mildly effective ones here, including one that's more about causing emotional harm than throwing someone off a roof - in a rarity for modern teen horror, this actually has a (fairly chaste) sex scene between main characters that we get to see, though things don't go quite as the couple planned. But the straight-up kills are nothing special, while characters are too generic for the personal reveals to hit home; the various twists around a closeted character with a homophobic cop dad are presumably meant to be surprising and heartfelt, but just come off as the least possible effort to avoid the most obvious outcome.

A fast pace is this fizzle of a film's biggest asset. By the time it becomes clear that the initial promise of the premise isn't going to be lived up to - Ronnie's death isn't a classic, but it does suggest that the demon is going to serve up some memorable kills - we're (barely) invested enough in the characters' personal quirks to make the dull fatalities (barely) less than a deal-breaker. And by the time it's clear that the characters will always be two dimensional cut-outs, the end is in sight.

Just make sure you stay for the most hilariously rubbish green-screen "special effect" in recent cinema history - presumably the killer demon dared the film-makers to include it.

Anthony Morris

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