I fully admit that I have a very unusual relationship with movie trailers. I kinda hate them. Oh, sure, the odd one will sneak up on me and blow me away – though these days they seem to mostly just be the films made by A24, but whatever. Frankly, I’ve just learned not to trust trailers. At all. It’s very easy to make an impressive trailer for a shoddy film, just as it’s possible to make a trailer so tone deaf to the actual movie that it actually hurts the overall film.
When I first saw the trailer for Truth Or Dare (2018), I absolutely let out a groan. It looked teeeeeerrrrribbbbbbbleeeee. Cheap, lazy and needlessly peddling to the youth with its bizarre Snapchat-esque effect slapped across the ‘scary’ people meddling with the protagonist, I was sure Truth Or Dare would be something along the lines of the cheapo cash-in horror film, The Bye Bye Man (2017).
Still, I decided to go ahead and watch it anyway. Because why the hell not? Besides, after my horror movie love-in last week, it was about time I sunk my teeth into something terrible.
Unfortunately, that won’t be today.
See, unlike seemingly everyone else in the world, I totally loved Truth Or Dare.
And this isn’t a Dare.
Let’s Get This Party Started
After her so-called friends sabotage her efforts to do some good in the world, resident joyless do-gooder Olivia Barron (Lucy Hale) is coerced into a trip to Rosarito, Mexico for Spring Break. Accompanying her are her friends, serial cheater Markie Cameron (Violett Beane), her boyfriend Lucas Moreno (Tyler Posey), alcoholic day-drinker Penelope Amari (Sophia Ali), her drug peddling boyfriend Tyson Curran (Nolan Gerard Funk) and officially-still-in-the-closet Brad Chang (Hayden Szeto).
All rounded up, the group represent the best, brightest and obnoxiously attractive bunch of college kids that you would expect to see in a horror film of this type. After a montage of videos and photos depicting the group’s fun in Mexico (wherein we see that despite their expensive college education, they still don’t appear to know which way round to hold the phone – making them prime subjects for death, as far as I’m concerned), we close in on the group on the final night of their trip.
Despite appearances, it quickly becomes clear that there are a whole load of issues below the surface. Despite Lucas’ protests, Markie is desperate to keep moving between bars, and is unable to help herself dancing with strangers, while Olivia stares longingly at Lucas across the table.
Things take a turn, however, when Olivia is approached by Ronnie (Sam Lerner), an obnoxious little twerp who has either followed them down to Mexico to find Olivia, or just so happened to be there too. Being drunk and stupid, Ronnie pushes things a little too far when trying to seduce Olivia – and is soon called out by a stranger at the bar. After telling Ronnie where to go, the man introduces himself as Carter (Landon Liboiron), and pulls up a stool beside him, which Olivia is more than happy to accept.
Later, when the group have finally had enough, they come to collect Olivia, saying it’s time to find somewhere else. Carter pipes up and suggests a place he knows of that was cool. Hesitant, the group accepts, and follows Carter up to a spooky haunted manor (no joke), where Carter leads them to a small room full of chairs.
Playing along, the group take a seat in the circle and, at Carter’s suggestion, play a game of Truth or Dare – the only rules being you must be honest, you must complete the dare, and once you’re asked – you’re in.
One by one, everyone is asked the same question – truth or dare. So far, so bland. Things get a little tense, however, when resident jerk Tyson asks Markie to answer the question, “Are you aware that Olivia is in love with your boyfriend?” – quick to change the subject, Carter becomes the focus of attention.
Answering with ‘Truth’, Carter reveals that he had to bring a group of people to the manor in order to pass a curse over, in the hope that it means he will be able to live. To everyone’s shock and confusion, Carter storms out, telling Olivia that everything he said was real, and it will follow her and her friends home – and that she must play by the rules in order to survive. Pissed at having wasted their time, the group wander out – but not before Olivia sees her friends, apparently possessed. But it was nothing. It was definitely nothing.
Once they’re home, things seem settled, although Olivia continues to see weird things around her. After promising Markie that she has no feelings for Lucas, Olivia is confronted in the college library by a number of disturbingly mutated college students, who crowd in around her, yelling the question on everyone’s lips – Truth, or Dare?
Calling for Truth, Olivia is forced to, apparently, shout at the top of her voice that Markie is always cheating on her boyfriend. The figures vanish, leaving instead a group of bemused students and, comically, a horrified Markie, and an upset Lucas. Olivia immediately gathers her friends – barring Lucas and Markie, obviously – and tries to explain what happened. Naturally, no one cares or believes her.
That is – until they discover the fate of Ronnie, who backed out of a dare earlier that night.
The realisation comes quickly after this. In order of the players of the game, each of the group are asked the question – Truth or dare? And, sure enough, must answer the question, do the deed, or face terrible consequences. Each of the characters are forced to expose their innermost secrets, desires, and are suitably punished for each of them.
With Olivia’s earnest attempts to uncover the mystery, it soon becomes clear that there may be more to this, than a simple cursed game. But will the group be able to keep each other alive, will Olivia be able to conceal her obvious feelings for Lucas, and who, amongst them, really deserves to survive anyway?
We’re not playing the game. It’s playing us.
As I said before, I unashamedly loved Truth or Dare. Yes, it sounds stupid and lame on paper. Yes, the trailer was legitimately terrible, but I’ll tell you what it did have – character.
Where each of the characters could have been bland two dimensional cardboard cut-outs, Truth or Dare managed to actually introduce quite interesting characters, each with a dynamic to explore of their very own. Despite some reviews I’ve read, the actions in this film were not random – they all tied in to something said, or something done earlier in that film. Every action had a reaction – and that reaction happened to be something deadly.
In particular, the character of Markie is legitimately sent to hell and back. First introduced as Olivia’s best friend, we see her form into a party girl – and the type you would expect to see die extremely quickly. Instead, she is punished, humiliated and dragged through the wringer – all while haunted by the death of her father. Violett Beane’s performance played a huge part in this, and her energy on screen was absolutely used to its potential.
It’s almost a shame Markie wasn’t the protagonist. Because, as is fairly standard for teen horror flicks, Olivia as a character was just a big old yawn as far as I’m concerned. That’s nothing against Lucy Hale, more of a symptom of the character trope being presented. See, while there is an original idea here, the story falls very heavily into an old slasher movie formula – and probably would have been held up as one of the classics about 20 years ago. In fact, the story beats are virtually exactly the same as the sublime retro-styled It Follows (2015), with a good sprinkle of I Know What You Did Last Summer and Final Destination, too. Sadly, however, its nineties-esque horror vibes and complete lack of actual scares may not be enough to win over the mass audience, while still being far too young and trendy for the Get-Off-My-Lawn types. The film even seems to get trapped in its own loop more than once – and if I have to see that damn Mexico Border sign again this week, I might lose it.
Written by Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach and Director Jeff Wadlow, Truth or Dare delivers, at the very least, a great selection of characters to utterly destroy.
In fact, one piece of advice I’ve had for writing is to develop rich characters first, then find what they’re most afraid of and make them confront it. This is basically that, but a film. The demon stalking the group will pop in and just shove a character into their worst nightmare, then pop straight back out again – and, for me at least, this totally works! Everything is quickly established, and everything comes back again. As a big fan of formula, this ticks my boxes.
Wadlow’s direction is fluid and, frankly, looks fantastic. For the most part, the horror sequences felt very dreamlike – with Lucas’ first encounter feeling very much like a scene from the A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise. The weird snapchat design of the spooky weirdoes is even lampshaded, and I quickly stopped caring about it. I wish I could understand why Olivia couldn’t just tell the police what was happening – who knows, maybe they would help. They seemed to want to help. Would that just get in the way of the plot?
It isn’t going to give you nightmares, and it won’t win any awards. But holy hell, Truth or Dare was a hell of a lot of fun – and the ending is both ridiculous and satisfying. It’s worth watching just for that. But, I guess maybe just wait ’til its on Netflix.
Yours, A P Tyler