The premise of Truth or Dare sounds like a comedy, doesn’t it? A bunch of friends start up a round of everyone’s favorite slumber party pastime but then discover that they are forced to continue to play the game or suffer dire consequences. It’s a fantastical idea that strays closer to Liar Liar than it does The Conjuring.
Well, laughs are going to be the only positive reaction you’re going to get from Truth or Dare because this is one kooky movie.
Characters Don’t Work
Where do you start with a film like this? Let’s begin with the characters. They are your boilerplate bunch of college stereotypes but with an unfortunate twist: they are all aggressively unlikable. Granted, that’s used for the movie’s purposes — the truths they tell end up revealing their awful secrets to each other and endangering their friendships — but it makes them all impossible to care about.
The worst part of this setup involves the lead character, Olivia (Lucy Hale). She’s presented as someone who cares for others in a genuinely good-hearted way. For example, she originally plans to skip out on her friends’ big spring break trip to Mexico in order to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. But, her best friend Markie (Violett Beane) secretly unsigned her up so she’d have to go with them. Wow. That’s a heck of a way to make the audience turn on your ensemble from the outset. This all plays into Olivia’s arc of the movie — she is constantly criticized for being selfless — and where it ends is so unbelievably wrongheaded and ludicrous that it somehow becomes entertaining in a gonzo way.
Laughs Instead of Screams
And that’s the big takeaway from Truth or Dare: this has a number of unintended comedic moments that often save the movie from being a total wash. The tone of utter sincerity to the movie is undercut by a variety of factors. For example, the demonic force that is causing the game to be played — was it called Kahless? — possesses people and makes their eyes turn red and smile in an inhuman way. It’s clearly meant to be creepy but it’s such a doofy and poorly executed effect that it’s impossible to take seriously.
Compounding this absurdity is some of the bluntest dialogue you can get in a horror movie. Characters spout encyclopedic exposition with no clear foundation on which to base their conclusions and it comes across like they are reading from some unseen rulebook. It doesn’t help that the drama between the characters falls flat since they are so unlikable or poorly defined. This makes their dialogue read as cheesy and ineffective melodrama instead of impacting. Still, it leads to more laughs which isn’t a bad thing. If a movie is entertaining you on some level, it’s succeeding regardless of its intent.
Same Old, Same Old
It’s a bummer that Truth or Dare doesn’t go for broke with its nutty premise when it comes to its structure and execution. This is a by-the-numbers horror film in every regard. Lots of false jump scares, well-worn creepy tropes like a body rising up in the background of a scene, an ancient supernatural evil, and the kind of exposition delivery that feels like you’re getting hammered with information instead of organically learning things. By the time we get to the clichéd end of the second act scene where a newly introduced character describes the origins of the demon — did they say its name was Kato? — it’s like a movie you’ve seen a hundred other times but without anything that makes its approach work.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of Truth or Dare is the fact that it doesn’t hit the one mark it needed to: taking its high concept and delivering on the promise of grisly shenanigans. In the film, a character is possessed by a demonic entity — it sounded like its name could have been K-2SO — if they refuse to play the game or they don’t complete their turn to the fullest extent. They are then killed. This is a great setup for some Final Destination type kills but the movie strays away from any fun gore gags or truly inventive deaths. With that base pleasure removed, it’s tough to commend the movie even on a trashy B-movie level.
Is Truth or Dare Good?
Truth or Dare occasionally reaches the pinnacles of unintentional comedy, but it’s mostly overflowing with tired horror tropes and unlikable stereotype characters. When it’s unknowingly silly, it’s pretty great. But, those moments aren’t often enough to make up for all the other problems in the film. If it had been a little bit crazier — like that ending. It’s a doozy — Truth or Dare could have been a wacky slice of over-the-top camp. Instead, it’s a movie unaware of its sporadically goofy nature that also gets bogged down with all-too-familiar horror staples.
But, you do get to see Tyler Posey take his shirt off. That’s not so bad!