The best horror films aren’t really about monsters, ghouls, or goblins. They’re about us. On its surface, Truth or Dare is a simple, by-the-books horror film. A small group of lovably rebellious twenty-somethings travels to Mexico for their last spring break (ever!!!) before life “rips them apart”.
The ensemble cast of this film works, for the most part. A handful of the characters they’re portraying tend to be vapid and kind of terrible, but what do you expect from young people in a horror film?
Lucy Hale and Violett Beane take the lead roles as Olivia and Markie, two ‘BFFs’ who will spend the first quarter of this film making your eyes roll as they spout typical best friend cliches.
On the last day of their spring break Mexico vacation, Olivia is propositioned by a random, roguishly handsome guy to join him on a trip to a mysterious location. Olivia’s friends don’t want to do this (of course), but she manages to persuade them.
After a long, creepy trek through the desert, the friends and their guide end up at an old, abandoned church. Once there, Carter (their mysterious tour guide) persuades the group to join him in a rousing game of Truth or Dare.
Naturally, chaos ensues.
Our intrepid protagonists discover, one-by-one, that this game of Truth or Dare is actually being controlled by a powerful demon, who forces them to answer intensely personal questions or, if they so choose, participate in life-threatening dares.
Lie? You die. Refuse to play? You die. Them’s the rules.
It’s a fiendishly simple premise, and the movie would have done better to let its true origins remain shadowed and unknown. Instead, the movie frequently interrupts its narrative to pack in exposition about what the game actually is, who’s controlling it, and how to stop it.
It’s a shame, because the film’s narrative is actually its biggest strength.
As I said in the opening, the best horror films aren’t about monsters, they’re about us. They hold a mirror to us, and force us to see ourselves in a different light. They make us question our morality.
Truth or Dare is essentially about the dangers of keeping secrets. As the game progresses, it forces the friends (those left alive, at least), to tell each other their deepest, darkest secrets. Things they have been hiding from each other for years.
Everyone knows what it’s like to have an unspoken secret. Everyone has watched a group of seemingly tight-knit individuals begin to unravel under the weight of lies and rumors. It’s a real world fear that has pervaded our society since the proverbial dawn of time: the fear of being revealed.
Even though our protagonists know the game is evil, and they know that the person who’s ‘it’ has no choice but to comply, it does not soften the blow one iota. Friendships are destroyed. Trust is obliterated.
Our characters slowly find themselves, each in their turn, ostracized and alone.
I firmly believe that if Truth or Dare had focused more on the effects of the terrible game, and less on the game itself, it would have been a far more successful film. The lore, as we uncover it, is nothing earth shattering. The ‘mythos’, if you will, is nothing we haven’t seen in a hundred other horror films before. So why make that the focus?
Jaws and Alien taught us that the best monster is the one you barely see. Perhaps that works for metaphors too. The less we know about the game, the more we can focus on the characters.
For this reason, the film sort of falls apart in its third act. As the already a little too long movie switches gears into a ‘race against time’ to kill the game before it kills them, we lose the charm the movie may not even have known it had.
What started as a surprisingly effective and even, at times, emotionally involving morality story devolves into a typical beat-the-clock thriller.
Now, that being said, Truth or Dare does live up to its most basic expectation: it is a bloody good time.
The performances are all good enough to keep us more than involved, I cared about the characters, the effects were good enough to be scary, and plot moved along at a quick-enough pace.
Truth or Dare really wants to be more than an average, jump-scare laden horror flick, and in some ways it succeeds. It features solid acting, writing, and effects. But it just doesn’t quite live up to its own potential. Which is a shame, because I truly believe it easily could have.
Despite its shortcomings, I feel like Truth or Dare may very well be a game worth paying for.
See it for yourselves, share this review, and comment your thoughts!