By ROBERT DANVERS
Starring Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey and Violett Beane
Directed by Jeff Wadlow
Written by Jillian Jacobs, Chris Roach, Jeff Wadlow and Michael Reisz
Following an unsettling prologue in which a young woman (Aurora Perrineau) hears voices and disturbingly immolates an innocent bystander, anyone settling in to watch TRUTH OR DARE could be forgiven for soon suspecting they are watching the premiere of a new CW or Freeform show, not least because much of the action takes place indoors with attractive collegians debating relationship and trust issues with social-media devices at the ready. Yet this turns out to be one of the movie’s strengths; director Jeff Wadlow, as he did with 2005’s otherwise mediocre slasher thriller CRY_WOLF, deploys his personable cast of young adults with some push and energy.
As in that earlier movie, there’s a pertly appealing female lead, actual Freeform and CW veteran Lucy Hale (who also had a memorable bit in SCREAM 4). She plays California undergrad Olivia, whose BFF Markie (Violett Beane) calls Olivia in sick to her Habitat for Humanity stint in favor of “spring break!” down Mexico way with their pals and fellow students Penelope (Sophia Ali), Brad (Hayden Szeto), Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) and Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey of TEEN WOLF and the SCREAM TV series)—whom it would seem Olivia has eyes for. Partying one night, the gang runs into yet another student, Ronnie (Sam Lerner), whose attempts to mack on Olivia are countered by handsome stranger Carter (Landon Liboiron of HEMLOCK GROVE). They all wind up heading over at Carter’s behest to a nearby abandoned mission, its exteriors imposingly rendered in CGI—with, inaptly, its interiors seemingly confined to one dungeon. While Spin the Bottle is proposed as a game, that is bypassed in favor of…guess. And almost immediately, Olivia begins having frightening visions of people she knows being demonically possessed and haranguing her to carry out a…come on, guess!
Back home in Cali, Ronnie’s night out in a bar suddenly turns self-destructive and fatal, and Olivia realizes her visions are real; a subsequent library visit is even more assaultive as the demanding chants of “truth or dare!” become cacophonous, with abrupt visage changes on people’s faces that appear, as she says, “like a messed-up Snapchat filter.” She’s not wrong, as the first visual of elongated eyebrows/menacingly narrowed eyes/spreading-rictus grin has barely faded from memory before the shock has worn off for the audience. At one point, a character becomes afflicted during coitus, but the scene is rushed through before we can find out whether other body parts are also constricted or extended.
Refreshingly, Olivia is able to rally her friends early and often to try to out-gin the game “that’s playing us,” unearthing evidence pointing to a terrible past incident at that mission they visited and straining to learn the rules of the game. As the truth-or-dare elements are pegged almost exclusively to personal secrets or traumas, TRUTH OR DARE affords its cast the chance to play scenes of regret, sacrifice, et al., which they do capably enough.
But the script—with original scenarist Michael Reisz sharing screenplay credit with three more writers, including director Wadlow—cuts only so deep; Stephen King-layered this is not. The picture keeps taking one step forward, one step back; one character being forcibly induced to come out to a family member offers welcome inclusiveness for this genre—or would, if the scene didn’t happen offscreen. Then there’s the sequence where Olivia and Lucas track down a mysterious old woman who may hold the key to the mission mystery. They are kept waiting for over an hour, only to then be welcomed as she fills them in at length on seemingly everything except current White House doings.
Ultimately, with a lot of exposition and rules-sussing to wade through, TRUTH OR DARE isn’t thrilling or scary enough; story beats and shock effects are hit over and over again, and the intended FINAL DESTINATION-type momentum doesn’t materialize. Speaking of hitting beats over and over again, the climax and resolution have the filmmakers leaning on an overly familiar payoff-that-really-isn’t.
Incidentally, the onscreen title is written out as BLUMHOUSE’S TRUTH OR DARE, minus the question mark seen in marketing and advertising materials—all of which, as always for the company’s non-sequel campaigns, slavishly reference previous titles/past hits. It’s doubtful that this movie will be featured in their subsequent ads, though, for TRUTH OR DARE needed more of the latter to make an impact.