Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review: "Truth or Dare"

“Truth or Dare” is less a work of creative effort than a piece of merchandise you order up on your phone. It’s disposable entertainment, the cinematic equivalent of gas station pizza -- more notable for its availability than any brush with quality.

It has all the distinguishing markers of low-grade, uninspired horror these days: kitschy premise that combines an old-timey concept with social media omni-connectivity; enough violence to seem “hard” while staying safely within the confines of the economically palatable PG-13 box; an improbably attractive cast of high school- or college-age students, played by actors bumping up against -- and in a couple cases, cruising right past -- age 30; the old saw of “the game turns deadly” as youthful frivolity gives way to mounting mayhem; a toll of deaths that steadily bumps up the body count while the remaining characters frantically test the limits of the “you can’t stop it” confines.

This is the sort of movie that introduces rules that, while fantastical, at least give some definition to the boundaries of the arena in which the game will be played. Then, when these grow inconvenient to the storytelling, blows right past them.

For instance: the idea of “Truth or Dare” is that a bunch of college students head down to Mexico to party during spring break, are lured to a creepy old mission where they play the naughty eponymous game. Even after they return home, they are forced to keep playing, with death the certain outcome if they don’t go along.

Well, anybody who could get into college -- even a nondescript SoCal party school -- would soon be able to figure out to choose “truth” every time. Embarrassing secrets may hurt you, but at least that way the demonic force running the game can’t make you, say, smash your best friend’s hand with a hammer, or slash your lover’s throat open.

Director Jeff Wadlow, who co-wrote the script with three others, explodes this obstacle by inserting the “two truths and a dare” rule. Apparently, the first group of youngsters who played this game created their own addendum which says that after two people choose truth in a row, the next one must choose dare. For some reason, this change then applies to the next group to play.

(Personally, I didn’t know demons allowed those forced to play its nasty little games to change the rules at their whim. If so, and considering this involves partying college students, I’m surprised the game wasn’t further altered to add a whole lot of trou-dropping.)

Lucy Hale heads up the cast as Olivia, the prototypical “sweet ‘n’ smart girl” who we know will wind up as one of the last survivors. She wanted to build houses with Habitat for Humanity during spring break, but got roped into fun by her best friend, Markie (Violett Beane).

Other members of the crew include the ubiquitous Jerky Guy (Nolan Gerard Funk), Drinky Girl (Sophia Ali), Dweeby Creep (Sam Lerner), Nice Gay Guy (Hayden Szeto) and Dreamy Dude Who’s With the Wrong Girl (Tyler Posey).

The way the demon -- who’s named Calix, btw -- communicates his commands is supposed to be horrifying, but it’s actually ridiculously goofy. People’s faces twist into a rictus grin, sort of like the Joker’s, croaking “truth or dare.” It feels more like a Hunter S. Thompson druggie mind-warp than supernatural terror.

Dropping acid would admittedly be more dangerous than watching this movie, but certainly more fun.

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