DVD Review: Truth or Dare
Review by Keri O’Shea
When watching a great number of modern horror movies, there’s something I seem to find myself wondering: am I, the viewer, meant to empathise with the twentysomethings who are so often the main characters – or, are they being presented to me merely as stooges, awful human beings who are about to get punished? Should I care about them, or just rest easy in the knowledge that they’re about to be offed in a series of increasingly unpleasant ways? It’s a quandary which began to brew again as I sat through the opening scenes of Truth or Dare; here, we start by meeting a group of wealthy, spoiled students, all talk about their conquests, their cash, and their cocaine. It seemed very unlikely to me that director Robert Heath could expect us to sympathise with these people; so, it’s a testament to his direction, the writing and performances that, up against some serious issues, the film manages somewhat to break away from expectations.
We first meet friends Paul, Gemma, Chris, Eleanor and Luke at an end-of-term house party. The booze is flowing, the coke is going round, and before long everyone decides it’ll be fun to play a game of – you’ve guessed it – Truth or Dare. The game proceeds until the bottle stops at a quiet, nervous outsider called Felix, who requests a ‘truth’ question and makes the mistake of answering it honestly: he admits to having a crush on Gemma, which gets him a smack in the face from her boorish boyfriend, Chris. He leaves, hurt and embarrassed.
Moving forward in time a few months, and – oddly – Felix has invited the gang to his birthday party, at his family home out in the countryside. They – perhaps equally oddly – accept the invitation despite the fight which happened the last time they all met up, but the lure of free booze is too great, and so they all head out to the house together. There, a groundsman directs them not into the grand old ancestral seat itself but towards a cabin in the woods, accessible only by foot. Off they go, walking the mile to the cabin, where they’re greeted not by Felix but by his older brother, military man Justin, who explains that there’s been a bit of a mix-up. Felix has been held up abroad, he tells them, and sorry I didn’t cancel with you in time, but come in anyway and have some champagne. Not too long after that, Justin suggests they play Truth or Dare again; and if the first game didn’t exactly go brilliantly, then the second is about to get far worse, as a lot of the issues surrounding Felix, his family and his ‘friends’ are about to be put under severe pressure.
There are some good, strong moments during this film, primarily born out of its neat pace shifts – one of which occurred just in time to stop my attention waning around the thirty minute mark, providing a real surprise. Truth or Dare’s sudden shifts work because they disrupt the film just that right amount; they happen when the film seems to be settling into quite a flat progression, with little, seemingly, on the horizon. Then, thump! The plot veers into new territory. Whenever this happens, you get a sense of the skill and ambition which is present here. However, that skill and ambition is often fighting against other elements, namely the overuse of various horror tropes.
Pegging the plot onto these oh-so familiar markers is a serious risk. Consider that, so far, we have a group of protagonists (with various ‘types’ represented) letting their hair down at the end of term, playing a titillating game of Truth or Dare, and picking on an outsider character. Then, later, the group of friends has an encounter with a gruff yokel and arrive at a cabin in the woods. I don’t think I can be accused of spoilers (seeing as how the image is splashed all over the press release and trailer) if I say the merry band then get tied to chairs and tortured. Sound familiar? Immediately, thanks to the use of these plot devices, the film begins to echo with all of the other films which have used all the same clichés. It hugely reduces the impact of the film on an individual level, because you cannot help but think of the last twenty times you saw all this happen on screen. With the tied-to-chairs thing especially, it’s become such a well-travelled channel in recent horror films that it has has now, quite frankly, become a rut. I’ll personally admit to being very sensitive to this motif in particular, but I’d argue that any film which utilises this type of on-screen ordeal has to fight an uphill battle in order to stand out from all the others. It’s a challenge which Heath and his cast & crew make a solid attempt at in several places, pulling several surprises along the way which counter expectations, but it takes them some time to break away from limitations which are ultimately self-imposed.
Truth or Dare felt like it knew where it wanted to go, but was maybe less confident about starting out, and for this reason, I’d say it’s more of a grower – straining against credibility in several places, sure, but engaging and enjoyable in places with twists along the way and some skilful uses of tension. Special mention must go to the stone-cold Afghanistan vet Justin, played by The Borgias actor David Oakes – his performance throughout definitely helps to sustain interest. Oh, and by the end I didn’t find myself loathing the twentysomethings, which must count for something…
Sharing in many of the flaws of modern horror cinema simply by repeating them, Truth or Dare nonetheless shows promise, and some real flair for dramatic intensity. It’s just a real shame that you have to get through the blue-filtered, ordeal horror deja-vu in order to appreciate all of that.
In the UK, Truth or Dare arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD on the 27th August 2012 via Cine-Britannia/Showbox Home Entertainment.
In the US, The retitled Truth or Die arrives on VOD on September 1st and DVD on October 9th, via Bloody Disgusting Selects.