Before Blumhouse was adapting teen party games like Truth or Dare and Seven in Heaven, IFC Films released Would You Rather in 2012. At the time of its release, the low-budget indie horror film didn’t make much of an impact. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of relevancy. The movie’s story about a millionaire exploiting down-on-their-luck characters was only a year removed from Occupy Wall Street. Since its release, Would You Rather has hung out on Netflix for a couple of years, looking for an audience.
Unemployed Iris struggles to carve out a living and care for her sick younger brother. But her luck looks to a take turn when she’s offered the chance to win money by eccentric philanthropist, Shepard Lambrick. The only catch is that she has to play a parlour game at dinner party with several strangers. After some harmless pleasantries, Iris and the other guests quickly learn that Lambrick’s game of ‘Would You Rather’ can only have one winner.
The Right Concept, But The Wrong Format
On the one hand, Would You Rather seemed perfectly timed to strike a nerve. We were only a few years removed from of the worst economic crises in history. Public outrage with the ‘one-percenters’ was intensifying. Yet in spite of this built-in opportunity for cutting subtext, Would You Rather feels disconnected. Director David Guy Levy’s decision to adopt a ‘Torture Porn’ approach to the material is part of the problem. By the time 2012 rolled around, the ‘Torture Porn’ cycle had long since faded away. Horror fans had moved on to found-footage and haunted house throwbacks.
…Would You Rather never fully embraces the nihilistic violence of ‘Torture Porn.’
In addition, Would You Rather never fully embraces the nihilistic violence of ‘Torture Porn.’ Though the movie threatens all manner of sadistic torture, there’s nothing committed to the screen that’s likely to shock horror fans. A character may be forced to cut his own eyeball, but you won’t see any explicit violence or gore. Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava, this is not.
Poor Execution Hurts Would You Rather
Would You Rather is clearly minimalist filmmaking. The majority of the action unfolds in a single setting. There’s virtually no music score to help with atmosphere and tension. Not much of a budget was set aside for make-up effects. Yet none of these things should have been enough to sink the movie. But they certainly were enough to expose the movie’s problems with execution. Simply put, Levy doesn’t show much innovation in staging the movie’s action. Levy films scenes that you know should feel tense and uncomfortable with all the flair of a public service announcement. There’s a dullness to the most of the movie. It’s watchable but never compelling.
Underdeveloped Characters and Miscasting Hurt
Aside from Brittany Snow’s ‘Iris’, Would Your Rather offers few relatable characters. Given the premise, this is a serious misstep from screenwriter Steffen Schlachtenhaufen. A movie about the wealthy taking advantage of the poor would be much more effective if the audience could actually identify with somebody on screen. Instead Schlachtenhaufen’s screenplay evens to build most of its characters from simplistic keywords. ‘Elderly woman in wheelchair’ and ‘recovering alcoholic’ is as much depth as you can expect. Other characters don’t seem to have much reason for being in the movie at all.
Odd casting choices only serve to further undo the movie’s paper–thin characters.
Odd casting choices only serve to further undo the movie’s paper-thin characters . Snow is perfectly serviceable, and Gotham’s Robin Lord Taylor is fine as a petulant and spoiled one-percenter. Canadian television fans will recognize Robb Wells from cult-classic The Trailer Park Boys. He’s a Canadian institution as Ricky, but feels out of place in this movie. It’s similarly jarring to see My Name is Earl’s Eddie Steeples here. Would You Rather shamefully wastes experienced character actor John Heard . Horror fans may not like to hear it, but even Jeffrey Combs doesn’t feel right in his role as the sadistic Lambrick.
Would You Rather is an Adequate Time Waster
Ultimately, Would You Rather never approaches being a truly bad movie. Words like ‘servicable’ and ‘fine’ readily come to mind. Everything chugs along while maintaining your interest. Nevertheless, Would You Rather is never rises above being an adequate time-waster. With the premise it boasted, Levy left money on the table here. Somewhere in Would You Rather was a critical and subversive horror film that could have left audiences unsettled.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C