For its first two acts, Truth or Dare is almost comically inept. The characters are cardboard, the performances forgettable, the dialogue laughable, the logic inconsistent, and the scares nonexistent. If this went straight to Netflix, few would make it to the end. And that’s why it’s so surprising when, in its final act, Blumhouse’s latest actually coalesces into something almost enjoyable, with character arcs coming to surprising conclusions as a rousing (if absurd) climax breathlessly unfolds. Unfortunately, the good stuff comes not only too late, but is more or less undone by a head-scratcher of an ending. Oops.
It begins in a Mexican resort town, where besties Olivia (Pretty Little Liars‘ Lucy Hale) and Markie (The Flash‘s Violett Beane) party with a host of conventionally attractive college pals. Irked by the way Markie constantly cheats on her beau, Lucas (Teen Wolf)‘s Tyler Posey), for whom she has eyes, Olivia cozies up to a handsome stranger named Carter (Landon Liboiron). When the party’s over, Carter invites them to a bombed-out, abandoned church and they all go. There, the gang play a game of Truth or Dare, one that Carter eventually reveals is deadly — if you don’t tell the truth, or if you refuse a dare, then you die. Thinking he’s just crazy, Olivia and company travel back to the US, where they’re each soon faced with supernatural entities that ask the titular question. Some survive the round, others don’t, and then it loops back ’round again.
It’s colossally dumb stuff, made bizarrely complicated by the incorporation of demonic spirits, Catholic rituals, and abusive priests. There are worse horror concepts than a lethal game of Truth or Dare, but imbuing such a pedestrian, debaucherous game with grave spiritual and supernatural implications is just a fundamentally bad idea, as evidenced by the film’s bending over backwards to justify it. What’s perhaps most confounding, however, are the basic logistics of the “game.” Sometimes, the “Truth or Dare” comes from possessed strangers, while other times it’s texted, keyed into a car, painted with an artist’s grace, rendered via existing video footage, or just spoken by a booming voice that no one else can hear. You’ll enjoy any horror movie more if you suspend your disbelief, but the kind of chaotic omnipotence practiced here makes questions of logic unavoidable, especially when it’s established that there’ are “rules” to the game, namely that only two people can choose truth in a row before someone must do a dare. This is horror dictated by director and setpiece.
It doesn’t help that anybody asking “Truth or Dare” does so with an exaggerated Joker’s smile that Olivia describes as looking like “a messed-up Snapchat filter.” Director Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) leans on that digitized effect for most of his scares, though like so many modern directors, he’s also prone to empty shocks, i.e. adding an ear-shattering sting whenever one character harmlessly surprises another. That said, a scene where a drunk character is dared to walk the length of her roof is tense and multi-layered, hinting that Wadlow might be better off helming action thrillers than horror.
It isn’t too soon after that scene that Truth or Dare begins effectively mining its central gimmick for pathos, with the sticky relationship between Olivia, Markie, and Lucas taking some interesting turns when tested by the evil haunting them. Carter’s reemergence is also executed well, and the final confrontation does an admirable job of resolving disparate storylines, while also calling back to early, seemingly unimportant moments of the film in a satisfying way.
Still, it’s unclear what anyone’s really supposed to take away from Truth or Dare, which ends on a bold, nihilistic note that’s superficially interesting but woefully unearned. This is, by and large, forgettable cinema, the kind that production company Blumhouse has a long history of pumping out in between its tentpoles. For every Get Out, Creep, or The Gift, there’s a Happy Death Day, Jessabelle, or Ouija. No one dared them to make this thing, but somebody will probably have to dare you to watch it.