Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions are the modern incarnation of the Universal Studios monsters-era and Hammer Films. Over the last 10 years or so, Blumhouse has been behind several critically and financially successful horror releases including the Insidious and The Purge franchises, Get Out, Happy Death Day, and Unfriended. Clearly, Blumhouse has a blueprint for low-budget horror films that has worked quite well. Last Friday Blumhouse unleashed their latest horror entry, Truth or Dare.
College student Olivia Barron (Lucy Hale), along with best friend Markie and her boyfriend, and several other friends, are partying in Mexico. One evening they run into Carter, a good-looking young man with an eye for Olivia, who convinces the friends to play ‘Truth or Dare’ in the ruins of an abandoned mission. During the game, Carter admits he tricked Olivia and friends into playing. He explains that the game is haunted and that they will be forced to continue playing by a supernatural force. If you lie or fail to follow through on a dare you die. The only way to survive is to trick more people into joining the game.
Truth or Dare’s Fun Premise Gets Weighed Down
Based on a screenplay by Michael Reisz and three other credited writers, Truth or Dare has a fun premise that initially sets it apart from the pack. The idea of a “game that kills” also implicitly plays on real-world moral panics like the recent “Blue Whale Challenge” that was allegedly circulating on social media. Where Truth or Dare starts to stumble is in its increasingly convoluted efforts to explain the game. A lot of expository dialogue gets delivered to establish the ‘rules’ for the audience.
Inevitably, as Truth or Dare twists and turns through its story, it pulls the curtain too far on its deadly game, thereby eliminating what might make it scarier. Neither It Follows nor The Ring offered audiences much background into their horrors. Truth or Dare just shows too much of its hand, which weighs the film down.
Loud Noises and Jump Scares
However, for most of Truth or Dare, the scares rely heavily on loud sounds and fairly generic set-ups that telegraph themselves.
Director Jeff Wadlow liberally spreads a few nice scares and jumps throughout Truth or Dare. In the film’s best moment, one character is dared to drink a bottle of vodka while walking along a rooftop. This scene offers genuine thrills and tension that would hold up well with some of the best scary moments from other horror films. However, for most of Truth or Dare, the scares rely heavily on loud sounds and fairly generic set-ups that telegraph themselves. In movie theaters, these scares will work very well, especially if you’re watching it with a full audience present. This is the kind of horror film that’s sure to elicit some quick jumps and gleeful screams but its scares aren’t likely to hold up to a second viewing.
Some Assembly Required
At no point while watching Truth or Dare did I find myself disliking it. For most of the film, I found myself engaged and enjoying it. Wadlow wisely keeps things moving at a brisk pace. The one nagging feeling that kept coming back to me about Blumhouse’s latest release was how ‘assembled’ everything about it felt. From the casting to the scares, Truth or Dare just felt like it was manufactured from a blueprint.
Lucy Hale and Tyler Posey are young, attractive actors who will be familiar to younger audiences from Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf. Both actors turn in perfectly fine performances. Similarly, the rest of the cast are all serviceable in their roles. Nevertheless, you get the distinct impression that you could make Truth or Dare again a few years from now and all the actors would be easily interchangeable with whomever was ‘young and hot’ with audiences.
Despite its interesting premise, Truth or Dare also feels increasingly derivative with its execution. There are definitely elements of It Follows, The Ring, and Final Destination in Truth or Dare and it does not benefit from these comparisons. Horror films can excel regardless of their rating but, in this case, the PG-13 rating handcuffs Truth or Dare. Wadlow is never able to create a death scene that approaches the zany energy of any of the Final Destination films. Even the film’s attempt at a signature trait with its ‘creepy face’ feels like its trying too hard to step on the coattails of other films. Unfortunately, the effect looks more like a bad Snapchat filter.
A Fun, Harmless Misstep For Blumhouse
Truth or Dare is by no means an awful film – it’s very watchable and makes for a harmless night at the movies. It’s the type of horror movie that is going to go over much better in a crowded theater where the sound and crowd energy will certainly prop up the light scares. That being said, Truth or Dare is definitely a lesser effort from Blumhouse Studios that never approaches the quality of their better films.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C