This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Jeff Wadlow
From what I believe this article is claiming, Blumhouse’s filmography is padded out by Jason Blum coming up with a title, telling the title to potential directors, and then listening as they spitball a pitch for the movie live. This is quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever read, and convinces me Jason Blum is living the best life in Hollywood. Let’s just take a look at some of these titles: Insidious. Sinister. Ouija. Unfriended. Creep. Curve. Viral. Incarnate. These are spooky keywords and nouns! A great veil has been lifted from over my eyes, and honestly, I can’t even be mad that TRUTH OR DARE is a slack-jawed, steaming turd. Jeff Wadlow and Blumhouse are going to make beaucoup bucks off of the fact their helmsman nonchalantly said the name of a children’s schoolyard game in a meeting once.
Jeff Wadlow wisely decided to start off his high-stakes improv session by basing TRUTH OR DARE around the eponymous game. Strong foot forward, but instead of having a bunch of errant tots play, let’s make it a volatile group of vice-happy teens. Now we’re cookin’ with gas. And what does Papa Blum like more than anything else? Demons! Big, honkin’, occasionally underutilized or otherwise shoehorned-in demons—to be clear, this is absolutely the stupidest decision the movie makes, but hey, now we have the awkwardly named Calax to count among the ranks of the Blumhouse baddies. Toss in some . . . nope, that’s about it, a demon-orchestrated game of truth or dare.
Surely we can keep some things sacred???
The strangest part about TRUTH OR DARE is how unrelentingly petty Calax is. The core mechanic of the film involves him possessing someone near you, turning their face into a mildly creepy Cheshire Cat grin, and asking you the Big Question. There’s of course lots of rules that get hastily dumped in later, like something about forcing you to choose dare if the two people who had turns before you told truth, but Calax seems much more focused on getting a group of 19-year-old divas to keep airing each other’s dirty laundry, with everyone getting real huffy and storming off shortly thereafter. If you play by the rules, you’re mostly just forced to be honest with your peers, and the most interesting part of the film is when one of the characters is made to come out to his father, which ends up strengthening their relationship. Even if this briefly hints at a presumably unintentional, albeit problematic, element of moral ambiguity on behalf of its villain (there’s also a scene where Calax intends to have a pill-pushing would-be doctor come clean), how are we supposed to believe an evil deity from Mexican folklore would ever give a shit?
On the topic of moral ambiguity, the overall message of TRUTH OR DARE is . . . something. Wadlow at least makes enough of an effort to give the main character, Olivia (Lucy Hale), a lesson to learn. As we see her dominated and manipulated by her best friend, Markie (Violett Beane), it’s easy to root for her to finally find the self-confidence and assurance to stand up for herself. The end sees Olivia finally take the advice given to her by her shitbird friends and think of herself instead of trying to help others: this translates to electing to unleash Calax on the world instead of letting Markie, who has treated her like wet trash for the entirety of the runtime, eat dust. What a message for the modern times, that we should act impulsively and selfishly instead of trying to contribute to any sense of greater good!
Tfw she acts impulsively and selfishly instead of trying to contribute to any sense of greater good
But even if TRUTH OR DARE had the most solidified lore, world of story, and thematic core ever committed to celluloid, it would still be laughably executed to the extreme. There might be a little bit of self-awareness bubbling underneath the surface, as one character knowingly comments that the face morphs that signify Calax has entered the ring look like bad Snapchat filters, but this is the sole moment of any sort of winking on the part of the director. And as such, between Calax’s sniveling grovel and the wide, but not really impossibly wide, smiles, the three sophomores that were sitting in front of me are probably the only people in the entire world who can find anything to be scared of here. The sound cues can only be described as oafish, gore is short-changed (apart from a memorable hand-smashing scene), and my mother would be able to see the jumps coming from a mile away. A special shouts out to the CGI-rendered castle in Mexico that the group finds themself in twice over the course of the film, though, as it reminds me of the album cover of obscure symphonic black metal act Gloomy Grim’s 2000 release LIFE?, and not many things do.
My most relatable reference to date
But, against all odds, I can’t confidently state that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the acting itself. Honestly, all things considered, it’s pretty good: Lucy Hale is a comparatively strong lead, Violett Beane doesn’t get totally overshadowed, and the only true stinker is Tyler Posey’s meathead heartthrob, Lucas. Don’t get me wrong, the dialogue is still a burning garbage bard, but everyone here is at least trying their best. What’s more, it’s hard to put a finger on, but this ensemble shares a certain energy and chemistry; even if the words coming out of their mouths don’t exactly feel like things real teens would say, the cadence with which they’re delivered feels accurate. However, as you can tell, that’s a Journey to the Center of the Earth deep-dig to find something to compliment TRUTH OR DARE on, so that alone speaks for itself.
As briefly mentioned above, the three sophomores in front of me provided an oasis of appreciation. They weren’t upset about the film; quite the contrary, in fact. They were filled with righteous anger at the fact that the rest of the theater was laughing, chatting, and pointedly making fun of the asinine events on screen, scowling at anyone who made a peep, repeatedly turning back to hiss at us, and at one point even pointedly demanding what it was, exactly, that we found so funny. What’s more, despite there being perhaps half a scare during the entire runtime, they were quivering and quaking in fear, covering ears and shielding eyes all the while. So as pretentious as it may sound, these kind of things aren’t for me, and I understand that and am willing to meet them halfway. You see, as much as I’ve dunked on it through the entirety of the review, it’d be a lie to say I didn’t have fun watching TRUTH OR DARE. Jason Blum says one or two words and people make movies out of them—I don’t think these throwaway flicks are meant to be taken all that seriously, and there’s entertainment to be found in their unabashed silliness. So grab a six-pack, get your friends together, and go watch TRUTH OR DARE with the knowledge that it’s bad, keeping an eye out for presumed Blumhouse fare such as PERVERT, TIC-TAC-TOE, and GHOST in the future.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend