Nutshell: Cliches and tropes we’ve all seen too many times before. Characters we’ve all come to expect in horror films. And yet, Blumhouse’s tribute to Stranger Danger can be surprisingly effective at times. Not chilling, but effective. That’s worth a lot in today’s straight-to-garbage video nasties. A nice, low-key horror film for fans expecting not much more than the basics. Grade: C
“I’m sorry. I don’t have a choice.”
Story: Pity poor Olivia. She’s stoked to help out Habitat For Humanity during her Spring Break, but bestie Markie canceled those plans. Boo! Now Olivia’s “got” to go to Mexico with Markie and the rest of her friends at Whatever University. Yay! Until some rando Olivia picked up at a bar has them play Truth or Dare in an old abandoned church. Boo! Boooooooo!
Genre I’d put it in: Netflix Worthy Horror
Gotta say: The trailer for Truth or Dare got me. Not because of the weird Snapchat-esque faces the characters made when possessed, but because the idea of what would be coming when the game really got eeeee-vil made me want to see more. So when the film unspooled, I found it…okay. Fun, with a few of the usual twists and turns Blumhouse does so well with, but not even close to their films Happy Death Day The Purge: Anarchy, or Get Out. In fact, I’d add ToD to their roster of “drinking game” films; films that aren’t good, but ain’t bad, and certainly improve with liberal use of adult beverages.
As with most “beware” horror films, Olivia (Lucy Hale) is the stock Cassandra character, trying to warn everyone way before her buddies buy a clue. And as usual, there’s death before they all get on board with trying to figure out how to stop things. But ToD has some genuinely inspired moments; “day drinker” Penelope (Sophia Ali, Grey’s Anatomy) has to put her tolerance – and dexterity – to the test in what is the best scene in the film. As her friends rush to save her, Ali puts on a first-rate performance of a girl both terrified and wasted.
As Olivia’s BFF Markie, Violette Beane (The Flash) also gets a chance to shine. But in this instance, while the performance is incredibly moving, the entire subplot with Markie and her father felt like something shoehorned into the film in order to give the story gravitas. We don’t need gravitas in B-movies, horror folks. We need scares. Plus, without giving away too much, this subplot felt written expressly for #MeToo cred. The fact that the entire subplot could have been cut (and replaced with Markie simply watching a video of/Facetiming with her dad) without the film missing a beat doesn’t help.
The guys in the group are little more than window dressing. There are the boyfriends Lucas (Tyler Posey, Teen Wolf) and Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk, Awkward) who do the boyfriend things. Ronnie, the requisite douche (Sam Lerner, The Goldbergs) and of course The Token Gay (played with more nuance than this film deserves by Hayden Szeto). And that’s pretty much it for the cast. Tada!
But what about Hale, our Pretty Little Liars star and heroine of this joint? Well, she plays a version of PLL‘s Aria, but with higher stakes. Her Olivia is an open-hearted gal who wants to please everyone. When things go south, she’s wide-eyed and trembly. It’s a stock horror heroine performance, which isn’t saying it’s bad. It’s just saying I’ve seen her do just that for seven seasons on TV.
As for the bells and whistles? No gore to speak of. In fact, almost all the deaths happen off-screen, or with someone slumping over with nary a drop of the red stuff anywhere. I guess Blumhouse wanted to keep this PG-13 for the PLL and Teen Wolf fans out there. Not that blood would have made this film better, but the deaths would have been a bit more realistic.
Tl;dr? I’d watch it again when it hits Netflix. ToD doesn’t ask anything of you, and it can be really fun at times. This could be a wonderful Blumhouse drinking game trifecta night with Ouija and Insidious: The Last Key. Watch this one first though, as it’s the best of the three. Hell, tack on The Visit if you’re looking to stay up late. Don’t worry, you won’t have any problem getting to sleep, unless you stay up worrying about the inevitable ToD sequel. Pleasant dreams.