J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare


It is fitting this movie is inspired by drunken college students’ favorite naughty game, because many future players are sure to reference it. Truth: did you pay good money to see it in a theater? Dare: re-enact one of the death scenes with a straight face. It turns out Olivia would have been much better off building houses over spring break than partying with friends in Mexico, but we could have guessed that for ourselves. Regardless, she is stuck playing an evil game in Jeff Wadlow’s Blumhouse-produced Truth or Dare (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

Somehow, Olivia’s flighty BFF Markie Cameron can always get her to do what she wants. It turns out guilt is a major reason why. Evidently, Olivia knows a secret about a childhood tragedy that she hopes to take to her grave. She also carries a wicked torch for Cameron’s boring boyfriend Lucas. These are exactly the sort of weaknesses the demon Calax enjoys exploiting. Thanks to Carter, a sleazy operator Olivia meets in a bar, she and her friends get lured into a sinister game of truth or dare.

Their decision to follow him into an ominous-looking abandoned mission in search of booze goes beyond any rational understanding, but they do it anyway. They also agree to play Truth or Dare, because it is so festive in there. Not that they have a choice. One of the peculiar rules of this game states: “if you’re asked you’re in.” Things get weird, but nothing gets seriously demonic until they return to college (where they apparently never have to study or write papers). Soon, Calax approaches them in visions, demanding truth or dare at the most inopportune times. Players that refuse get possessed and meet an ugly end. Secrets will be exposed, fraying friendships, but because Carter’s friends played with the “two truths and a dare” rules, Olivia’s pals cannot avoid Calax’s homicidal and suicidal dares indefinitely. So, can Trump build a wall to keep the demons out? And get Mexico to pay for it?

Any time a horror movie shares a title with a Madonna flick, it is just bad news. Reportedly, T or D is itself the product of a dare. Blumhouse started with the mere title and Wadlow talked his way into directing it with an extemporized elevator pitch. It all must make Roger Corman proud, but the slapdash development process definitely shows on the screen.

The truth is, you will laugh a lot during T or D, but it is the wrong kind of laughter. It is not even a question of laughing at the film rather than with it. You’re laughing at yourself for being a grown adult, sitting through this ridiculousness.

It is too bad because Lucy Hale (who will be news to anyone who doesn’t watch Freeform, the ABC teenager channel) definitely seems to have some potential as Olivia. Unfortunately, she is surrounded by morons and clichés. The only notable exceptions are Hayden Szeto and Tom Choi, as their gay friend Brad (still in the closet with his family) and his conservative cop father. They have some nice scenes together, so it is too bad they aren’t in a more respectable, thought-out movie.

Yes, truth or dare, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Final Destination knock-offs or rise up against a sea of dubious franchises, yet they will never end, even by opposing them. In fact, I’m ashamed to say I would probably watch Truth or Dare 2, because this first round is such an unruly spectacle of a train wreck. Not recommended (like it matters), Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare opens today (4/13) pretty much everywhere with a screen, including the AMC Empire in New York.

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