13 April 2018

lol just kidding

This morning I decided to face the sinus-killing environment outside my front door and take a trip to the movies to see the new horror film from Blumhouse Productions, Truth or Dare. It was a terrible decision. From the get-go, I knew that it was a terrible decision. During the ride to Cinemark at 9 a.m. - which is far too early to be seeing silver screen trash - the words "Maybe this won't be so bad" never once crossed my mind. The thought of spending one hundred minutes on this poop train made me queasy, and I firmly believe that after wasting my already wasted time watching Truth or Dare, I have lost every shred of dignity that may have remained in my being after all these years.

Okay, I'm maybe being hyperbolic. But that doesn't change the fact that Truth or Dare is, far and away, the worst movie I have seen in the first tertile of 2018. I decided to give it an ill-advised viewing for a multitude of reasons, chief among them, morbid masochistic curiosity. Excluding this particular harrowing endeavor, I have been to the movies three times in the past month, having seen (and loved) in chronological order: Thoroughbreds, Unsane, and A Quiet Place. Perhaps these specific horror movies, being of top-drawer quality, inadvertently skewed my bias, making it inevitable that the next horror movie I'd watch would only seem inferior due to an unconscious and unfair comparison.

I'm kidding again. It really is a bad movie.

Truth or Dare stars actors and actresses you may or may not have heard of. It has no bearing on your enjoyment of the film either way. Of the main cast are Lucy Hale, Jesse Quick from The Flash, and some other twenty-somethings who wanted money. They play a group of college seniors itching to get their Spring Break on. If you've seen a single slasher in your life, you more than likely recognize some of the clichés already. The rest are just as easy to spot: you've got the sweet, innocent girl (Lucy Hale) who doesn't want to do anything wild for Spring Break, her outgoing and adulterous best friend (Violett Beane), said best friend's average wet rag boyfriend (who, naturally, is secretly in love with the nice girl, and vice versa), some other dude (whose last name is apparently Funk), the Funk dude's girlfriend (the only PoC in the entire movie), and a token Asian homosexual fellow (Hayden Szeto).

If you went out right now to your local 7-Eleven and purchased one two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola and left it out on the kitchen counter, untouched for three straight years, it wouldn't taste as flat as these characters are. Each of the main cast is a boring yawn with a pretty face. All of the men are copy-paste attractive white guys - so physically similar, in fact, that I genuinely had trouble keeping up with who was who. Only the gay Asian dude stood out, because despite being just as generic and bland as his lame friends, he's, y'know, not white. As for the ladies, Lucy Hale is front and center and therefore hard to miss, and that's all I can really say about her, while Jesse Quick has blonde hair and does not run fast, or even at all, nor does she explain her absence on The Flash. Sophia Ali, the aforementioned sole person of color, is as big a boring nobody as the rest of her merry band of sedatives.

These people aren't horrible, and unlike the loathsome teens in 99% of slashers, you don't exactly hate them or want to see them die, but their complete lack of personality makes you feel nothing but ennui when their lives are in danger. With the addition of a recycled outline riddled with by-the-numbers predictability, Truth or Dare quickly becomes a boilerplate "slasher" without the one crucial element shared by every good slasher - the violence. Yes, there is essentially no violence in Truth or Dare. It walks like a slasher and it talks like a slasher, but a slasher it ain't.

There's nothing original about Truth or Dare. As a cocktail it's two parts It Follows, two parts Final Destination, one part The Ring, shaken with ice, and then dumped in the kitchen sink because much like $1 margaritas at Applebee’s and any alcoholic beverage that ends with 'tini, it tastes a lot worse than it might sound. The It Follows aspect of Truth or Dare is the most obvious - close friends are being pursued by an unseen entity that isn't easy to escape. In the vein of Final Destination, the moment you think you've escaped your fate and beaten the odds (in the case of Truth or Dare, when you refuse to play the game), you end up dying (refusal to play results in the hilarious assisted-suicide via demonic possession). I guess that also makes it a bit like Saw if everybody in Saw was like "I don't wanna" and just sat there with their arms folded until the rusty cage on their shoulders snapped off their jaw. And then there's The Ring portion, which can only be detailed via SPOILERS!!! so, spoiler alert from here on out, for those who actually care and to you I ask: why? In the final act of the film, Lucy Hale is reliably informed that the game can't end without all of her friends dying - however, the rules state that if someone is simply asked "truth or dare?" he or she automatically becomes a player in the game, whether they like it or not... which leads Hale to realize the loophole that practically slaps you in the face within the first fifteen minutes of the movie - especially those of us who know how The Ring ends, i.e. everybody - she can tape herself explaining the details and rules of the cursed game and end the video with the fatal question, "truth or dare?" before uploading it to the internet for all to see, because apparently everybody and their mother is subscribed to Lucy Hale's YouTube channel.

That's it. That covers everything. You've basically just seen the whole movie.

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Actually, that's not entirely true - the flick did have a few funny moments, albeit unintentionally so. To wit:

  1. The demon leading this ancient game of truth or dare is named Kalex, which is literally just Alex with a K at the front. I mean, I could be spelling it wrong, but that's exactly how it's pronounced: KAY-LIKS. It's the most unintimidating name for a horror movie demon since Sinister's "Bagul."
  2. The very first dude to brush off his demonic dare and subsequently die - I think his name's Ronnie - had been fruitlessly hitting on a girl at a bar and asked if she wanted to see his "pool cue," which he needlessly explains is his penis. Kalex "possesses" the girl - indicated by a big creepy smile suddenly stretched across her face - and asks Ronnie, quite sexfully, "truth or dare? ;D" He picks "dare" and is commanded to stand on the billiards table and show everyone his "pool cue," but when Ronnie opts out after being heckled, he dons that Kalex-possession grin and throws his head against the end of the table, breaking his own neck. Here's my problem with this: Kalex dared Ronnie to show everyone his pool cue. Those were the exact words: "pool cue." To hell with innuendo - that death could've been avoided with a literal pool cue. So why did you try whipping out your dick, Ronnie, you moron? You poorly-written jackass?
  3. The gang ends up tracking down Carter, the fellow who initially recruited them into the deadly game, and he's locked himself in this shabby apartment where all of the windows are covered with aluminum foil. There are just blankets of crackled foil hanging everywhere. Why aluminum foil? Is that Kalex's weakness...? Who knows. It's never explained, and that's what makes it so absurd and hilarious, although I'm fairly certain the comedy isn't remotely intentional.
  4. I want to reiterate: Kalex. Kalex. It sounds like dollar store bug spray.
  5. That signature creepy Kalex smile I mentioned? I'm sorry I called it "creepy." That wasn't fair. It isn't creepy. It's just silly.
  6. Jesse Quick keeps watching old footage of her dead dad (who sadly is not Harrison Wells) grilling fish in the backyard, and at one point the in-video image of her father, somehow possessed by Kalex, demands of his daughter a truth or a dare. It's supposed to be scary, I guess. It's not, though. But it will make you chuckle.

Those funny bits - though funny they may be - ultimately do not redeem the irredeemable Truth or Dare. The movie remains unwatchable garbage. All one hundred minutes of it are embarrassing. It almost feels like a forgotten '90s slasher - the kind you'd find on a deserted shelf in the horror section of a West Coast Video while looking for a copy of Scream, but there aren't any left because Scream is actually a good movie and all of the copies have already been rented out and now you're stuck spending a lonely Friday night in 1998 with trash like I Still Know What You Did Last Summer or the thirty-seventh Friday the 13th. Maybe Truth or Dare would've found a home back in 1998, where inferior horror movies all huddled together on lonesome video store shelves like an ignored gaggle of homeless people resting beside a dumpster fire. Hell, Truth or Dare might have been half-decent in 2018 if it had embraced the ridiculous premise introduced in its trailer. A demon named Kalex haunting millennials with a deadly game of truth or dare is by nature a silly conceit. This movie could have run with that and it could've gotten silly. It should have gotten silly. But it wasn't silly. At least not on purpose. And any silliness it may have harbored was quashed by the movie's obnoxious penchant for being boring, hackneyed, and stupid.

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I've read a handful of Truth or Dare reviews whose titles are some variation of "I Dare You To Not Watch Truth Or Dare," which is trite and on-the-nose, but they're not wrong. Some bad movies - and I mean the ones that aren't so-bad-they're-good - are at the very least worth half a viewing. There's no reason to offer Truth or Dare so much as half a blink. It would be an exaggeration to call it a monumental piece of shit, but it sure smells like a turd. And a thing that smells like turds should be avoided. Seriously, I'm racking my brain and for the life of me I cannot come up with a single viable reason to watch this movie. It's just worthless. I don't even hate it; I simply recognize that it has no value. But don't conflate my censure of this film with my faith in Jason Blum - that faith remains unshaken. No sir, I can't be mad at Blumhouse. I could never be mad at Blumhouse. They're like those devious little Sour Patch Kids - one minute they're jamming sour crap like Truth or Dare down our collective throats and then they get real sweet and gift us Creep or Get Out or the shockingly good Ouija: Origin of Evil. Plus if anybody's to blame here it's director Jeff Wadlow, who shamelessly helmed this dirt wagon. (He was also responsible for 2005's Cry_Wolf, which was universally panned before becoming a forgotten slice of mid-'00s horror doo-doo.) Wadlow co-wrote Truth or Dare with three other writers, one of whom used to write episodes of Digimon, so take that as you will. Even looking past the Digimon thing, a movie with multiple writers can be one set up for failure. One man's vision is another man's buffet, and some people won't hesitate to scoop gluttonous handfuls from your brain, ignoring the fruits and veggies in favor of the junkfood you tried to hide behind the salad bar. But in the case of Truth or Dare, it feels like maybe the idea didn't even have a salad bar, let alone a single fruit or vegetable or anything recommended by dietitians, and the whole thing was probably noxious junk from the start. To go so far as to call it a "vision" might be disingenuous - "uninspired two-bit trash" sounds more appropriate. I suppose, though, that I couldn't in good conscience use the word "disappointment" to describe the flick. But that's only because it looked like crap from the very beginning.

Truth or Dare hits theaters this weekend. Go see something else.

SCARY

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JumpScare

15

SCORE

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Brad Grandrino

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