Over the course of the last few years, we have seen Blumhouse deliver a series of gut-wrenching horror films like Get Out, Happy Death Day, and the various installments in The Purge series. The studio has made a name for itself through an ability to tap into tone, as well as an understanding of how certain movies will play with certain audiences. That talent is once again present in Jeff Wadlow’s demonic teen slasher thriller, Truth or Dare, but the effective, high-concept premise feels cheapened by the movie’s paint-by-numbers story, mostly uninteresting characters, and serious emphasis on cliché.
The title of the film pretty much says it all. Pick truth? Then you better tell the truth. Pick dare? Then you better do the dare. Refuse to play? You are going to end up dead. That’s what Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her group of friends learn while on spring break in Mexico when a charming stranger invites them to play the classic children’s game in an abandoned church. Upon their return to their Southern California college, they discover that a mysterious demonic presence has followed them back, and it will not stop until the game of Truth or Dare kills them.
Let’s start with the good. First and foremost, it needs to be said that Truth or Dare knows what type of movie it is, and (as mentioned earlier) it once again shows Blumhouse’s ability to manipulate tone in the service of the story. Truth or Dare plays into the same trashy teen slasher tropes that defined now-classic horror movies of the 1990s like I Know What You Did Last Summer or Scream, which is something that Happy Death Day also did last year (albeit a bit more effectively). If you do not take yourself too seriously, then there are several set pieces in Truth or Dare (particularly one involving a co-ed, a bottle of liquor, and the roof of a house) that will work.
We should also note that some of the performances in this movie actually work quite well. Though far from the genre’s most memorable protagonists, Tyler Posey and Lucy Hale both do a serviceable job of acting as the de facto heroes of the film. Then there’s The Flash‘s Violett Beane and The Edge of Seventeen‘s Hayden Szeto, both of whom rise above the film to deliver legitimately great performances as Markie and Brad — two people in the group burdened by the weight of secrets. Despite the insanity of it all, these characters stand out as legitimately compelling.
Alas, on the other side of that coin, there are also a large number of performances in this movie that don’t work as well. There’s some laughably bad dialogue in this movie (someone actually points out that the faces made by the film’s central demonic presence look like Snapchat filters…), and actors Sam Lerner, Nolan Gerard Funk, and Sophia Ali all get stuck with some of the film’s corniest dialogue. Not only are many of these characters grating, but by the time bodies start to drop, they have turned us off to the point that we may actually begin to root for certain people to die. That is the one thing a good horror movie absolutely should never do.
However, amid the good and the bad to be found within Truth or Dare‘s story, no review of the film would be complete without highlighting the truly ugly element of this horror romp: the insane willingness to embrace genre clichés. In a post-Cabin in the Woods world, no horror movie should rely this much on tropes that went out of style years ago. From the discovery of ancient artifacts while exploring a haunted area to a scene of researching clues of the haunting with everyone huddled around a computer to the discovery of an old expert on the demon who can impart his or her own wisdom, Truth or Dare checks a lot of established genre boxes and plays to moments that seasoned horror fans will see coming from a mile away.
In addition to that, the film never really sets up a real set of rules or any real internal logic as far as how the demon can haunt the main group of college students. In several scenes, the heroes come up strategies that they think will help them stay alive, and the demon simply stonewalls them with the explanation of “that’s not how this works,” without ever really defining why certain strategies aren’t allowed within the rules of the game. Though it may seem like a minor quibble in the grand scheme of a horror movie, rules like that are essential to establishing the world. In Lights Out, we know that we’re safe as long as we stay in the light. In A Nightmare on Elm Street, we know we’re safe as long as we stay awake. Truth or Dare doesn’t have anything like that, and it suffers as a result.
That’s not to say that the scares don’t sometimes work. There are a few legitimately creepy scenes in the film, and there’s an admirable attempt to ground each set piece’s theme in a specific character flaw possessed by each member of the group. Beyond all of that, the film’s ending (which we will not spoil here) comes out of nowhere and ends the movie on a creative high note that many likely won’t see coming. However, for every well-thought-out scare or innovative moment in Truth or Dare, there is at least one cheap jump scare to ruin the flow of the film.
Despite a few solid scares and set pieces, as well as a killer ending, Truth or Dare‘s embrace of cliché and lack of internal logic makes it stand out as a lower tier Blumhouse affair. It’s an enjoyable but mostly hollow experience, and it seems poised to become an ironically-fun flick to be enjoyed by groups of friends at parties — not unlike Truth or Dare itself.