“TRUTH OR DARE” — 1½ stars — Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Nolan Gerard Funk, Sophia Ali; PG-13 (violence and disturbing content, alcohol abuse, some sexuality, language and thematic material); in general release
Hollywood’s recent streak of good scary movies just ended … at one.
Coming fast on the heels of John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place,” Jeff Wadlow’s “Truth or Dare” is the unfortunate inverse of its multiplex neighbor, matching each of “Quiet Place’s” skillful turns with an inept move of its own.
The story follows a group of indistinguishable teens as they desperately try to escape a sadistic game of truth or dare that is killing them off. The film’s protagonist is Olivia (Lucy Hale), an aspiring humanitarian who gets manipulated into ditching her Habitat for Humanity project to join her friends for one last spring break in Mexico before “life tears (them) apart.”
See the foreshadowing there?
While on their trip south of the border, a mysterious stranger named Carter (Landon Liboiron) tricks Olivia and her friends into playing a spontaneous game of truth or dare in an abandoned mission. The game picks at the thin relationships between the characters, such as Olivia’s secret crush on her best friend Markie's (Violett Beane) boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), but once the group returns home, things get much more diabolical.
Carter warned them that the game was a real life-or-death predicament, but still Olivia and Co. are surprised when supernatural forces start terrorizing them in the middle of their day-to-day lives, demanding that they confess horrible secrets in public or perform increasingly sadistic dares, including walking along the edge of a rooftop while polishing off a bottle of hard liquor.
The players are killed off if they refuse to cooperate, and it soon becomes clear that cooperating is just as deadly a proposition. So Olivia and Markie set out to learn how to end the game, which leads to enough trips back and forth across the Mexican border to make you wonder if the whole film is some kind of immigration metaphor.
It’s hard to think Wadlow and his team had anything that weighty in mind, though. “Truth or Dare” is pretty much another lowball teen horror film that doesn’t aspire to more than a few cheap frights. Unlike “Quiet Place,” which placed irreplaceable value on each member of its tormented family, the characters in “Truth or Dare” are barely more than cannon fodder, included only to provide additional “scary” opportunities for a grisly demise.
“Scary,” of course, is a relative term here. “Boring” might be more accurate. “Truth or Dare” manages only a handful of tense moments, partially because the audience has no true investment in the generic cast, but more so because the movie never generates the kind of tone or atmosphere to really engage the audience.
The best part of the film — and the only part that shows a genuine interest in character development — is the way the game zeroes in on the precarious relationship between Olivia and Markie, peeling off the layers of their dysfunctional friendship, which extends beyond boyfriend jealousy and reaches much darker territory.Comment on this story
Unfortunately, even that satisfaction is undone by a mess of an ending, which blows apart as a bizarre and confusing plot smashes into an illogical finish that will look awfully familiar to anyone unfortunate enough to have seen “Rings” last year.
Come to think of it, a more skillful production would have set aside the entire supernatural aspect of the film altogether. As any teenager who has played a real game of truth or dare can tell you, the experience doesn’t need any demons to terrorize its players.
“Truth or Dare” is rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing content, alcohol abuse, some sexuality, language and thematic material; running time: 100 minutes.