Director: Jeff Wadlow
Writer: Michael Reisz, Jillian Jacobs, Chris Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Producer: Jason Blum
Stars: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Landon Liboiron, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk, Sam Lerner, Aurora Perrineau, Tom Choi, Gregg Daniel, Andrew Howard
College friends become cursed to play a supernatural game of Truth or Dare with horrifying consequences.
Currently, Blumhouse partitions projects according to two labels: the eponymous brand for modest-budget films released theatrically through Universal, and the BH Tilt subset of stepchild movies deemed better fit for DTV debuts, often without a whisper of marketing. Let’s just say they’re prouder of one than the other. The strategy here is to provide enough separation that the shallower pool doesn’t color the main name’s identity, even though both are sourced from the same stream.
Really though, Blumhouse products are better divided according to demographic objective. Tier A would be mass appeal movies with wide-ranging recognition such as “Get Out” (review here), “Insidious,” even “Happy Death Day” (review here). Tier B would encompass teen-targeted thrillers like “Ouija” (review here), “Unfriended” (review here), or “The Gallows” (review here). The former films build buzz with mainstream media and are generally well received by horror fans for having sincere style. The latter films are, frankly, primarily architected as straight moneymakers meant to appeal to high-schoolers burning 88 minutes on a Friday night.
“Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare,” whose full, possessive title is almost as obnoxious to acknowledge as “mother!” (review here) or “Se7en,” can clearly be corralled into that second category. Like the peers to its left, right, top, and bottom, the film follows a formula for pleasing a palate perfectly fine with ground beef boiled in a bag. As long as a mouth expects the familiar taste of Taco Bell, “Truth or Dare’s” fast food flavor satiates a quick craving for scary movie simplicity. If you want filet mignon, well, you should know it doesn’t come from a drive thru window.
Rip the first page from Nondescript University’s yearbook and you’ll have the stereotypical students populating “Truth or Dare.” First up is Olivia, the good girl so good, she can’t wait to spend spring break building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Promiscuous blonde BFF Markie has a more exciting idea. Since her smart girl status is already established anyway, Olivia ends up bolting across the border with Markie instead. They’re accompanied by party girl Penelope, self-centered cynic Tyler, token homosexual Brad, horny joker Ronnie, and Markie’s boyfriend Lucas, whose mutually-shared interest in Olivia sharpens all three points on an awkward love triangle.
In a Rosarito Beach bar, Olivia meets Carter, who invites everyone to an eerie old mission for an after hours game of Truth or Dare. Because nothing says guaranteed good time like following a stranger to an abandoned building at 2am while drunk in a foreign country. Not only that, but on the list of ill-advised actions to take in a horror movie, playing games in a creepy church where a priest was murdered lands a notch above using a spirit board in an Indian burial ground (probably the plot of the next “Ouija” movie).
It turns out Carter was secretly playing Hot Potato by rope-a-doping the newcomers into taking ownership of a curse that afflicted his own friends. Now Olivia and company are new pawns pitted against a devious demon in an unending supernatural cycle. Forced to reveal uncomfortable truths or take dangerous dares, the game’s escalating evil is determined to tear up these college kids emotionally as well as physically.
“Truth or Dare” isn’t out to impress anyone with originality. If it were, it would be in serious trouble. Along the predictably plotted story path, we’re treated to such fright flick staples as a second act online research sequence and a third act visit with Old Woman Exposition (remember Lin Shaye in “Ouija?”). Hey, if the first act filled in all the facts, where would any intrigue come from?
Certainly not from pat personalities or uncreative kills (at least three people die from single gunshots). To be “fair,” a word that works as an adjective to describe just about everything regarding “Truth or Dare,” the movie knows it is a plain Big Mac in a bigger world of prime rib platters (apologies for mixing my food metaphors). And if I’m forced to pick ‘Truth,’ I must admit the cast and crew’s efforts earn exactly the C+ grade they set out to hit with their agenda of adequacy.
“Truth or Dare” locks into cruise control before the key turns in the ignition. Lucy Hale capably leads an attractive cast, the silly story has enough implausible imagination to be entertaining (how hilarious is it that this supernatural spirit’s endgame involves injecting ten Lifetime movies worth of soap opera drama into some unimportant relationships?), and straightforward directing ropes it all together with a tightly tied lasso. Essentially, “Truth or Dare” hits for par at every hole on an unchallenging course.
As a critic, I can’t rank the film much higher or lower than “The Bye Bye Man” (review here), “Friend Request” (review here), or the 2017 “Truth or Dare” that aired on Syfy since they’re all cut from the same “college kids in paranormal jeopardy” cloth. Choosing ‘Truth’ once again, I confess I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Syfy’s “Truth or Dare” (review here) without rereading my review, which I wrote only a few months ago. This more or less obligates me to award “Truth or Dare” 2018 with the same three-star score.
That’s less an indicator of forgetfulness and more of a testament to how disposable “Truth or Dare,” 2017 or 2018, truly is. But that’s a subgenre of horror all its own: a fun-size bite of a Milky Way offering momentary satisfaction, even though you’re right back in the Halloween candy sack looking for the next tasty treat.
Bottom line says you’re required to recognize where your circle overlaps in the diagram with the movie’s target audience. 15-year-olds having sleepovers need flighty PG-13 thrillers to make it through their evening, and they could do a lot worse than “Truth or Dare.” Who knows? Maybe Blumhouse will aim higher with a sequel tailored to seasoned horror vets and we can look forward to “Truth or Dare: Origin of Evil.”
Review Score: 60