Truth or Dare (2018)

*. You know, I thought this started well. Not great, but OK.
*. It’s a dead-teenager movie (or dead-college student movie) of a kind that has become popular. Death stalks a gang of young people in the form of a game of musical chairs. The game has rules, which are gradually explained. People have to die in a certain order. Think of the Final Destination movies or It Follows. (These movies are also like supernatural versions of what I’ve described as the Game of Death genre that took off with Saw.)
*. I don’t think Truth or Dare is as good as those movies, it just doesn’t feel nearly as fresh and interesting for starters, but up until the halfway point I was playing along with it.
*. But then things take a nose dive. Most of the challenges that had been faced were kind of interesting (especially the gay kid having to come out to his cop dad), but then Olivia (Lucy Hale) has to sleep with Lucas (Tyler Posey).
*. I get that this is the demon who is running the show here (his name is Calax) just being a shit-disturber. But all this fighting/jealousy/whatever between Olivia and her bestie Markie just struck me as silly and on another, lesser level of importance altogether than the far more pressing problem they’re facing with the game.
*. Since I didn’t give a damn about Olivia and Markie and Lucas this is where I tuned out. My sense is that Jeff Wadlow (the co-writer and director) basically had a concept for the movie and didn’t have the rest of it fleshed out very well when he had to get it into development. The opening scene, for example, was something he came up with “on the spot.” Apparently producer Jason Blum just pitched him the title (because the studio though it highly marketable) and let him make up a story that would go with it.
*. From there the story spins out in a bunch of unconvincing and poorly-fleshed-out directions before ending on a somewhat surprisingly bleak and cynical note. I guess the game goes viral but I’m not sure how that would work in practical terms.
*. The reason the script’s running out of gas is so important is because the movie has nothing else going for it. Director Jeff Wadlow doesn’t do suspense, and even muffs a couple of predictable jump scares (introduced at Blumhouse’s request). The cast, who are (and look) mostly too old for their parts are hard to relate to. Or is it just that I’m getting too old?
*. And finally the PG-13 rating meant there was no gore on screen and little real violence (even in the director’s cut, which is what I saw). This is not necessarily a problem (It Follows stayed clear of gore as well, as did the previous year’s Blumhouse production Happy Death Day), but it means the concept and the other things I’ve mentioned (directing, cast) have to come through.
*. The concept (or title, really) had potential. As Carter explains, “it’s a chance to expose your friends’ deepest secrets and make them do things they don’t want to do.” Add in the mortal stakes and something interesting might have been done with this, instead of all this Sweet Valley High crap.
*. Does Carter really think he’s going to save himself by locking himself in his apartment (and ordering delivery?) so that the demon can’t get to him? That doesn’t seem to be how the game works. I mean, Calax can burn text messages onto someone’s arm!
*. The effect they use for showing that the demon has temporarily possessed someone looks kind of silly, and it left me wondering if maybe it would have been better if they hadn’t shown any transformation at all. Since nobody else can see it but the audience this would also make more sense. I think it would have helped create a sense of paranoia: could you really be sure that you were talking to your friend and not some Mexican devil?
*. On the other hand, especially if they were thinking of a franchise (which I’m sure they were), they really needed some kind of signature element. Since we never see the demon, the goofy smile had to be it. Aside from that, what is there that’s unique or distinct about any of this?
*. Yes, Mexico. They make a really big thing about the gang driving back and forth across the border here (something that is not nearly as easy to do as is shown). Why? Should it mean something that the demon is of Mexican origin? Is he an illegal alien?
*. The full title is apparently Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, which may be the first time I’ve seen a production company putting itself out front with billing like that. But I guess it makes sense. Truth or Dare isn’t a good movie, but it fits pretty well with the Blumhouse brand of low-budget horror films that aim for franchise status. Sometimes it works out (Paranormal Activity being the chief example), sometimes it doesn’t.
*. Critics were overwhelmingly negative but it made nearly $100 million on a $4 million budget (Blumhouse pictures have proven to be, thus far, critic-proof) so I suppose we may see a sequel. Personally I thought it needed to be a lot smarter in order to work, or have at least one or two scares or good kills going for it. I wouldn’t say I was bored by Truth or Dare, but I was never interested in it either.

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