Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare follows a group of hot young college students who plan a trip to Mexico for their last spring break together. Olivia (Lucy Hale), the pushover, can’t make it because she’s committed to going overseas and building homes for the needy. But her friends, being d-bags and all, go ahead and cancel her trip. Free from altruism’s burden, Olivia joins their obnoxious selfie-snapping, binge drinking bonanza. Regrettably, these opening moments present Truth or Dare’s cast of characters at their most charming.
On their last night in Mexico, the group meet a kind stranger (Landon Liboiron) who invites them to party at an abandoned mission. Since there’s not much to do at AN ABANDONED MISSION they play what they think is a harmless game of truth or dare. But by joining the game they’ve entered into a pact with something sinister (and you thought Facebook’s policies are sneaky). Once they return home, a malevolent force seeks them out one at a time and makes them continue the game. If a player refuses to play, they die. If a player doesn’t tell the truth, they die. And if a player doesn’t attempt the dare, they die.
Most horror movies fall into two camps. There’s the “The killer is the star of the show,” movies where people are like lambs to the slaughter. It’s Jason massacring lax camp counsellors. Then there are the films where villains terrorize heroes we empathize with; it’s rooting for Chief Martin Brody in Jaws. Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare exists in a bizarre middle ground where you’re not sure which side you’re cheering for, the college kids or the evil force. It’s hard to side with the kids. They’re thinly sketched characters defined by their negative traits. Aside from Olivia, the goodie two shoes, there’s a serial cheater, a borderline alcoholic, and I’m certain the pre-med student is a legit psychopath. At first, I thought the movie was encouraging me to root against them because when the entity starts knocking them off, I didn’t feel a shred of empathy.
The “terror” is supposed to begin when someone chooses truth over dare. Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare makes the case that revealing a deep dark secret creates more drama, suspense, and intrigue than acting out a dare. This is true in theory but not in practice. For this to work, the film needs appealing, well-written characters we can empathize with. In Captain America: Civil War, a secret is the root of the film’s conflict. It’s hard watching earth’s mightiest heroes go toe-to-toe with one another but the moment when Tony learns Steve’s secret hits home like a HULK-sized punch to the gut. In Truth or Dare, there’s no reason for us to care if generic character A reveals she wants to sleep with generic character B’s boyfriend. The film thinks this friend versus friend conflict is riveting but never puts in the work necessary to raise the emotional stakes.
In Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, the game of truth or dare is the villain, which sounds ridiculous. It’s a great concept that gives the writers the freedom to put their imaginations to the test. The game’s psychological attacks are as fierce as any physical blow. This incorporeal villain embodies our fears in 2018, a time when we upload parts of our identity in the cloud and we’ve blurred the line between our online and offline personas. The thought of an immaterial force chipping away at our identity is enough to rattle us to our core. But perhaps I’m reading into things too much because aside from a few gruesome deaths, Truth or Dare remains toothless.
It wouldn’t shock me if a longer, better edit of Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare exists somewhere. Inside of this banal film, there are fragments of a cerebral picture. Truth or Dare wants to comment on the divide between our online personas and our authentic selves. And I like that the film wants tension and suspense to grow out of the characters’ relationships, not the threat of violence. In the age of the curated social media profile, what’s scarier than standing in front of your friends and revealing the real you? It’s a shame Truth or Dare bungles such an intriguing concept.