Truth or Dare: Game Over, by Tyler Smith
Sadly, the one part of Jeff Wadlow’s Truth or Dare that I found to be memorable is also the one thing I can’t talk about: the ending. It is a compelling resolution that is set up both thematically and narratively, but I still didn’t see it coming. It definitely put a smile on my face. Unfortunately, I had to wade through 100 minutes of contrived mediocrity to get there. In a genre that has often been marked by its homages and inspirations (or, if I’m feeling less generous, its rip-offs), Truth or Dare is particularly shameless about borrowing elements from other horror movies. Final Destination, It Follows, and Unfriended are just a few of the films that this movie pulls from, but where those were notably original in both their concepts and execution, Truth or Dare serves up one convention after another, without ever bringing anything particularly exciting to the table.
The story begins with several college students vacationing in Mexico for their Spring Break. Once there, Olivia (Lucy Hale) is approached by Carter (Landon Liboiron) at a bar, who convinces her to join him in a game of Truth or Dare, bringing her friends along for the ride. However, it is soon revealed that this is more than just a game, and an evil entity is present, forcing the players to participate or die a horrible death.
And so we go around and around, as the characters hit all the standard beats of incredulity, suspicion, belief, fear, and eventually defiance. Some characters die, some don’t. There are some effective moments of suspense, and moments of predictable boredom. There are scenes that are emotionally compelling and others that are laughably over-the-top. The film goes on like this, limping towards the finale.
Thankfully, despite its generic trappings, the actors are all committed to the emotional cores of their characters, even those that are completely one-dimensional. Particular standouts are Hayden Szeto as the closeted son of a stern police officer and Violett Beane as Olivia’s best friend, deeply flawed but yearning for real connection. The rest of the cast dutifully work to realize their characters, and their lack of self consciousness goes a long way. In a film as conventional as this, the temptation for an actor to wink at the audience, effectively distancing himself or herself from the material, must be tremendous. But these young actors are all in, even when saying lines of dialogue that must have been painful to sell.
The filmmaking itself is competent enough. The direction is slick and polished; maybe a little too much, actually. I’ve often found that when horror has too much of a sheen on it, everything feels a little too artificial, and it becomes harder to connect with the characters. Even in the midst of high intensity scenes, the art direction, cinematography, and sound design in this film are all so immaculate that everything began to feel safer than it should. Perhaps the film’s PG-13 rating precluded the grittiness required to sell the physical and psychological disintegration of the characters. Regardless of the reason, the final product is just too antiseptic to be fully effective.
Ah, but that ending. The destination almost makes the troublesome journey worth it. It throws everything we’ve just seen into sharp relief. Suddenly all that has come before starts to add up, and we realize that the filmmakers were preparing us from the very beginning to arrive here. It’s an impressive bit of storytelling, and one that will stay with me.
Unfortunately, Truth or Dare ultimately adds up to a net loss. It has its good points, but is really not that different from dozens of other horror movies you’ve seen before; movies that were likely much more effective.