Truth or Dare
Is it possible to call “Truth or Dare” a horror film? This film, in which absurdity permeates every scene, is only notable for its lack of terror. It’s free of scares, sure — but the film is as ridiculously entertaining as it is dreadfully provocative. However unfortunate it is that this film isn’t original or riveting, it does receive one accolade: the ability to make the audience laugh.
A group of friends — the flimsy imitation of six college seniors — is thrown into a frenzy of unstoppable day-and-night binge drinking on a spring break trip in Mexico. The opening montage, a supercut of forcibly relatable Snapchat videos charting the friends’ daytime beach trips and the parties that follow, captures the group’s disingenuous euphoria. It’s a friend group defined by the members’ feigned cordiality toward one another. This uneasiness comes to abrasive, uncomfortable light when the group follows a man named Carter (Landon Liboiron), whom the protagonist Olivia (Lucy Hale) meets at a bar, to an abandoned Christian mission church for drinks when the bar closes.
When they arrive, Carter proposes they start a game of — you guessed it — truth or dare. As they drunkenly stumble through the game, it’s shown even further how little these characters care for each other. They pose unexpectedly personal questions for the truths, aimed with the singular cruel desire to cause the recipient pain. One friend, Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), asks Markie (Violett Beane) if she knows about her best friend Olivia’s hidden crush on Markie’s boyfriend, Lucas (Tyler Posey). Olivia’s concealed desire, Lucas’ similar unspoken feelings for her and Markie’s unfaithfulness to Lucas inadvertently become the central focuses of the film. Olivia and Lucas’ covert attraction to each other is accentuated by the infuriatingly mundane accidental brushing of hands and knowing, evasive looks. It’s founded upon as little substance as Olivia’s relationship with Markie, which is defined by Olivia’s reluctant agreement to pull Markie away from whichever guy she’s cheating on Lucas with. The other characters hardly hold enough importance to leave an imprint on the film — this gratuitously vexing and familiar love triangle takes up too much room to allow that.
Upon returning from Mexico, the friends learn something isn’t quite the same. Ronnie (Sam Lerner), an insolent intruder on the group’s night at the bar in Mexico, is dared by a girl at a bar back home to show everyone his “business.” He climbs atop a pool table and announces what he’s about to do but ends up refusing the dare out of embarrassment. He slips on a ball on the table, breaking his neck on an adjacent table. The bar denizens begin to shriek with panic, but few audience members will join in. The scene is actually incredibly funny. The twisted, upturned corners of Ronnie’s mouth — the same smile on the face of each character when possessed by the game — unconsciously elicit comedy rather than fear.
From Ronnie’s death onward, the game has no clear rules. It targets the characters’ insecurities, flaws and futile relationships with one another and only allows the characters to choose two truths before requiring them to choose a dare. But other than these things, the game can seemingly do whatever it wants. There’s no clear sender of the text messages the characters receive or reason why the game can speak to them through a video or walkie-talkie or paint their faces with that idiotic smile. The film attempts to provide an answer for how the game operates, but it is meek and predictable, a recognizable element from other horror films.
The game gets violent quickly in ways meant to unsettle the characters and the audience. But the characters — the insubstantial and inauthentic renderings of human beings — are too shallow to elicit sympathy or fear from the audience. They were created to die ludicrous, inane deaths for the sake of violence and horror. The film falls into tropes — quick, substanceless jump scares and the insignificant characters the audience has no interest in. As a horror film, it’s impossible to enjoy seriously. But as an unintentional comedy, it’s a wonder. Approach “Truth or Dare” with as low expectations as possible, and some pleasure may emerge from the accidental humor in the fragile relationships, the unimportant characters and the foolish smiles that hang upon their possessed lips.