2017 | unrated (R equivalent) | starring Cassandra Scerbo, Brytni Sarpy | directed by Nick Simon | 1 hr 30 mins |
Halloween Horrorfest # 15
It did seem odd when earlier this year Jason Blume’s cheapo horror studio latched it’s name to the front of their latest dead teenager movie making it Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare and confusing kiosk ticket buyers. The explanation given was that Blumehouse name ID was going through the roof after success with Happy Death Day and Get Out. Maybe. Or maybe there were multiple movies called “Truth or Dare” about a haunted Truth or Dare game because ideas germinate in Beverly Hills coffee shops and get stolen by studios all over Hollywood. Which brings us to Truth or Dare, a 2017 TV movie dropped into the stream-a-verse in time for 2018 Halloween. It isn’t that the new, uh, old Truth or Dare is a particularly good movie, but it’s thinly-conceived college kids lined up for creative slaughter works and looks even better by comparison to a big studio release that botched this concept up oneside and down the other. Blumehouse was the best thing to happen to director Nick Simon’s little horror flick.
Money often breeds invention in the movie business. If being handed piles of money lead to greatness Michael Bay would be making masterpieces. That might be the case here, with a studio film and a bit more length in the purse strings Blumehouse’s Lucy-Hale-staring Truth or Dare was given a mandate – it was treated with a seriousness that made it laughable and the length to expand it’s ghostly mythology to the point where it weighted down the movie in a quest for logic. The movies differ wildly in how they treat this concept: with Blumehouse starting with a haunted Truth or Dare game and sending it’s characters on a scavenger hunt to track down tangible origins and backstory. Simon’s film on the other hand seems to know exactly the limits of this limited concept, cleverly keeps in those lines and airs on the side of explaining nothing.
In 2017’s Truth or Dare mysterious and haunting things just start happening to a group of 7 college kids playing the game in a haunted house (I wouldn’t bet against being able to actually rent out haunted houses). Inside the house, cards with truths rain from the ceiling, disconnected phones ring and TVs with signal test numbers spell out what to do and how long. And that’s all we know and all we need to know. The movie is very quickly off to the supernatural with the simple conceit being that these kids are just trapped in a curse. Unlike Blumehouse’s film there are no trips to Mexican churches, no elaborate backstories about pedophile priests, no CGI smiles and no expository dumps from old ladies without tongues. Well, there is one exposition dump. Per usual one name actor gets attached to one of these low budget things in order to get financing and this time we get Nightmare on Elm Street icon Heather Langenkamp spending one day in a makeup chair to do her scene. Langenkamp is always fun to see.
The movie wisely confines the front half of the action into the house, but surprisingly doesn’t lose it’s step when stepping out of the house as the un-named unseen ghost follow the kids home for more rounds. A few little things I liked here. Truth or Dare opens with the usual opening death and then the cut to the car full of randy teenagers driving down a wooded road on a weekend getaway set to upbeat music. Normally, this group, in this case a new girlfriend outside of the group being introduced, would be the heroine here. Nope, Simon just mixes everyone up, throws the story arc up in the air and lets the strongest character grab it based on how cleverly they react to the game as it goes. Like I said, everyone is one dimensional but Cassandra Scerbo and Brytni Sarpy take the reigns as BFFs forced against each other by the game.
There is also a clever element to this film that wasn’t in Blumehouse’s – teamwork. The group here uses their time to try to figure out a loop hole in the language of their ghostly challenges or a way to “share the dare” amongst them that will minimize the damage to each. In the scene that won me over to this movie, one of the guys is told to grab onto electrified wires and the group works out how to knock him out of the circuit so his heart doesn’t stop. In another they all dole out a cup of poison. Some of this stuff is narly from a body horror perspective in ways more effective than blood and guts.
As the movie goes on, as with Blumehouse’s version, the dares start getting cruelly unfair. Like the torture traps in the final Saw movies, there has to be some way the characters can win. Once the ghost starts spinning a gun on the table and making them play Russian Roulette, problem solving and game playing go out the window for deck-stacking wholesale ghost murder. Which bring us to an ending that will infuriate most audiences. It’s a nasty cut-to-black that at first feels like a cheat and upon reflection seems like a little stroke of genius. Again, this movie’s strength is knowing how limited this silly concept is and it seems to know it has written itself into a corner. Of all the bad options it has, it splits the difference and picks about the most satisfying out it could.