The plot of Blumhouse’s latest horror Truth or Dare, in so far as it can be discerned by human eyes, sees a group of sexy college students getting lured into a deadly drinking game whilst on Spring Break in Mexico. So far, so generic.
Led by level-headed Olivia (Lucy Hale) they return to their college – located conveniently near the border – and find themselves being picked off, one after another, by a supernatural entity demanding that they choose either a truth or a dare. If they don’t, they die. If they do, the game continues (and so too, sadly, the film).
That ragtag group of seven friends who find themselves cursed by the game feel at first like the gossamer-thin archetypes found in most slasher horror. But peer closer into their unplumbed depths and you’ll see that they are in fact all the same archetype: the brattish millennial. They are given individual signifiers so that the viewer isn’t entirely lost in a sea of flat jokes and interchangeable dialogue – one is gay, one deals drugs, one has daddy issues – but they are essentially the same character, played out seven different times, with a laziness that defies even the expectations of the genre’s lazy characterisation traditions.
But you don’t go see Truth or Dare for the character development, you go for the scares. The premise implies a Final Destination-style whittling down of the survivors, pitting their attempts to return to normal life against the constant presence of an unseen tormentor. Unfortunately, where the Final Destination movies are a Rube Goldberg machine of creative destruction, Truth or Dare’s punishments are singularly boring. The deaths – predominantly self-inflicted – include a guy stabbing himself in the eye with a biro and a girl shooting herself in the head with a gun. Even the truths and dares conspire to be uninteresting. Almost all the truths are about adolescent crushes that feel painfully mismatched against the level of peril; almost all the dares are to just kill another person. It makes for dull watching and, presumably, dull writing.
The film’s finale marries fetishised foreign mysticism with a punchline of staggering, unacknowledged human indecency. But it’s hard to care at that point, because the film is entirely divorced from any sort of governing logic. It is quite a feat to take a game as simple and universal as truth or dare (or ‘truth, truth, dare’ as they try and explain midway), tie it to a Mexican demon called Calax, and have the rules dissolve in a series of sanitised self-mutilations. The result is a film that is at times almost comically bad.
In a week where high concept horror is returning to cinemas with aplomb in the form of A Quiet Place, Truth or Dare feels tremendously tacky. Its antecedents are less from the Wes Craven school of putting sexy young folk in tremendous danger, and more from the Ryan Murphy kindergarten of appealing to mainstream audiences who don’t actually want to be frightened. But to have such low ambitions and yet still underperform is the really scary thing.