Would You Rather (2012)

*. Darn. I really had my hopes up for this one.
*. The basic concept is nothing new. Rich guy offers a ton of money to whoever can win (that is, survive) a game he’s arranged among a group of eight dinner guests. We have been here before. It might be House on Haunted Hill updated with torture challenges that play out like reality-TV contests. Elsewhere I’ve called this the Game of Death genre. Think Saw and all of its offspring (House of 9, Breathing Room, Kill Theory, etc.).
*. But actually it’s less interesting, and a lot less enjoyable, than even that would make you think.
*. In the first place there are no surprises. You know the rescue attempt is going to fail even before it gets started. That’s Stephen King 101 (on the commentary, director David Guy Levy references The Shining as his favourite film, so you know where this part is coming from). The challenges play out as expected, and I’d also flag the bitter twist at the end as a foregone conclusion. Honestly, I was just waiting for all of this to play out so I could go watch something else.
*. Just as an aside, it’s interesting to note how many of these failed saviours are black. Scatman Crothers in The Shining. Danny Glover in Saw. Lawrence Gillard Jr. here. It’s sort of like the cliché about the black guy dying first in one of those body-count slasher films. If a black guy is coming to rescue you, you’re out of luck.
*. Second: None, and I mean not one, of the games is even remotely interesting in itself. Basically the guests are just choosing between different forms of torture: electrocution, stabbing, drowning, beating. That’s it. Couldn’t they have come up with something just a bit different? Have them eat poisonous bugs?
*. Third: The script is weak and disjointed. What stands out the most here is the character of Julian. Why even introduce him? What purpose does he serve? And why aren’t we given even the hint of an explanation of why Lambrick is doing all this? Would that have been too much to ask? It would have at least given Jeffrey Combs, an actor I normally enjoy, something to do other than hamming up the part of the faux-solicitous MC. This goes past tiring to downright annoying in a hurry, before finally becoming insufferable. I honestly think there were a couple of the tortures I would have voluntarily chosen over just having to listen to him blab through the rest of the meal.
*. Lambrick doesn’t even play fair, basically killing off Amy (Sasha Grey) for the hell of it. What was up with that?
*. As another example of this kind of scattershot effect, there’s a terrific opening title sequence using X-rays that are given a 3D effect. They look great. But what do they have to do with anything? Are they Raleigh’s X-rays? Of his whole skeleton? I don’t see how that would make any sense, but it’s the best I can come up with.
*. Taking a step back, can we say if there’s a point to any of this? Perhaps it’s a satire on the New Philanthropy. If poor people want handouts they’re going to have to perform. Beggars are necessarily victims. Julian calls the guests pigs and orders them to show him respect, while Lambrick expects Iris to thank him for all he’s done for (not to) her. So much for our overclass of benefactors.
*. My interpretation, for what it’s worth, is that Lambrick is meant to be representative of film producers, with the aspiring filmmakers as guests being made to do tricks in order to get funding. I actually wrote that down on my notepad while watching the movie and only later realized that Lambrick is the name of the production company that released the film. So we’re not really talking about class warfare here so much as an allegory of the movie biz. I don’t think that’s very deep, but again it’s the best I can do.
*. I never like to leave off without saying something good about a movie, so I’ll mention that I liked Brittany Snow’s performance. She’s a lot better here than she was in Prom Night. So there.
*. I could go on and on, but I won’t bother. Not only is this one not as intelligent as it thinks it is, it isn’t intelligent at all. They didn’t want to go the gore route but instead tried to be more “reserved” and “psychological.” A worthy goal, but they didn’t get there. It’s an unoriginal, downright tired entry into the torture porn sweepstakes with scarcely a moment of suspense or dramatic tension. I hope getting it funded didn’t involve as much trouble as what the dinner guests are put through, but then shouldn’t we all be made to suffer for our art?

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