By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Jessica Cameron, Devanny Pinn, Shelby Stehlin, Jesse Wilson, Brandon Van Vliet, Heather Dorff, and Ryan Kiser
On the surface, Truth or Dare may seem like just another horror film. A torture one at that. And regular visitors to this site know how I feel about the ‘torture porn’ aspect of the genre. After all, someone looking at the poster above could probably assume they know the plot to the film. But part of the beauty behind Truth or Dare is that it plays with your expectations and plays out completely different. Yes, people are tortured. Yes, there is A LOT of blood spilled. But what sets Truth or Dare apart from the rest of the genre Saw built are the aspects of the human psyche it explores. Director/co-writer/star Cameron has assembled a storyline that all genre fans can eat up. At the same time, when the film is stopped and thought about, you come to realize there is something much deeper than its title suggests. And this is what makes Truth or Dare special. A funny gory mess, it is also a film with something to say about the world of social media that we live in. And how dangerous it can be.
The film’s set up is well done in that it already puts you at the disadvantage of not knowing what to expect next. A bunch of people gain fame when they post a video of themselves playing a dangerous game of Truth or Dare. While the fame gets them a lot of recognition and appearances on talk shows, one crazed fan decides to attend one of these talk shows they appear on and throw his hat in the ring to become a member of the group. When the question he has of how to achieve this gets laughed at, he decides that come hell or high water, he will achieve his dream of fame, stopping at nothing to make it happen. I have a small bar raised when thinking about what makes a good horror film. This bar pretty much consists of the scenario that if tweaked just a bit, it could also make a great thriller. For example, what if Wes Craven decided to make A Nightmare on Elm Street a film about how Freddy Krueger became the demon that he ended up being, and not necessarily outlining the supernatural aspects of his demonic self? Yes, it would be a different film, but one that I would nonetheless watch. This is the power behind what we have in Truth or Dare. Cameron and her co-writer Jonathan Higgins have crafted a similar type script which if tweaked, could be made into a great thriller. Fortunately for us genre fans, she didn’t and went balls out with the horror.
The cast Cameron has assembled make for a more often than not believable bunch of people. Van Vliet has most of Truth or Dare’s great lines, sprouting them with the naturalistic overtones of a comedian on his best night. Wilson has the task of being the common sense of the group, and pulls off the shock of the situation nicely. Dorff is excellent, as she has many of the film’s most powerfully emotional scenes. As does Pinn, who has been working in the horror business long enough to know what works and what doesn’t in playing out how a damsel in distress can come off seeming both likable and plausible. Probably the only performance I didn’t like was the one turned in by Stehlin. In his defense, it is a thankless role in that it does not play out with any hint of likability. Yet, I did not feel Stehlin gave much more than what was on the page. Everybody knows that the most fun characters to play in these films are the villains. And boy does Kiser get his cogitations in Truth or Dare right! Rip roaring through one gleeful grin and context after another, Kiser is perfect in his role of Derick, the man who has set up his scenario for fame.
What makes Truth or Dare tough to review is that part of the fun in watching it is seeing each of its scenarios unravel. So as to not spoil what happens, I will not go into detail about any of the ‘truths’ or ‘dares’ made throughout the course of the film. What I will say is that one of my favorite aspects of the film was that each and every character onscreen are not what they seem. They all have revelations that are shockingly feasible. It’s a tough line that Cameron walks nicely. Also, this being her directorial debut, Cameron takes full advantage of Truth or Dare’s mostly one setting scenario with bright lighting and an aesthetic that fits the film’s mood amiably. Truth be told, this is a film made by fans of the horror genre for fans of the horror genre. Not every decision formulated by the script comes off perfectly (one revelation toward the end of the movie had me incessantly scratching my head long after the movie was over.) But any and all horror fans would be doing themselves a disservice if they did not see Truth or Dare. Gory, fun, and gleefully over the top, Truth or Dare does exactly what it sets out to do, which is put the audience through a hell of an hour and a half ride. A ride I highly recommend taking. You may be red when it’s over. But at least you’ll walk out knowing that there are still people out there who know what horror fans want.