If you’re given the option of Truth or Dare, we recommend the lasagna.
If you think about it, there are a lot of scary things about the game of Truth or Dare. It’s a party activity that forces people to admit unpleasant truths, or to do outlandish things, but if you’re doing it with the right group of people, it can be a healthy way to process our personal anxieties and inhibitions. With the wrong group of people, however, it can be a horrible form of peer pressure, which forces us to reveal personal shames and potentially even endanger ourselves in more ways than one.
So it makes sense to turn Truth or Dare into a horror film, but it does not make sense to turn it into Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, a movie which is easily the silliest of its kind since Friend Request. Jeff Wadlow’s film bends over backwards to make its high-concept plot, about a haunted game of Truth or Dare, make sense on paper, but the film gets so hung up on how a game could be haunted it completely fails to make us care about who’s playing it.
Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare stars Lucy Hale as Olivia, a college student who was totally going to spend her spring break building houses for Habitat for Humanity, but whose best friend Markie (Violet Beane) convinces her to party in Mexico instead. They’re joined by a whole bunch of best friends, but the movie seems to know that they’re only fodder, so they mostly just get isolated character traits like “party guy,” “drinker,” “drug dealer,” and “gay guy with conservative father.”
Eventually, their spring break leads them – as all spring breaks must – to an abandoned, dilapidated church where a mysterious stranger suggests they play Truth or Dare. They do, but surprise! The game is haunted by a demon and now they have to keep playing, forever, and if they refuse they’ll die. Then again, if they play the game they’ll probably die too, because many of the dares – and the truths – force them into deadly situations like walking around the roof of a building while drunk, or straight-up murdering someone.
The mechanics of Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare are extremely reminiscent of the Final Destination movies. In both stories, a supernatural presence stalks a group of people, and they each take turns tackling life or death situations. The difference is that even in the worst Final Destination, the set pieces were so elaborate that they were entertaining whether or not you cared about the characters. In Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, the dares (and truths) are relatively bland and they fail to distract from just how two-dimensional most of these people are, just how absurd their story is, and just how silly this demon looks with its CGI smile, which one character describes as – in terrified tones no less – “a messed up Snapchat filter.”
Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare builds an elaborate backstory for that demon, and it only becomes funnier the more you learn about it, with an elaborate supernatural mythology that feels completely arbitrary… which makes sense because the mythology really is arbitrary. This movie probably only exists because “a supernatural game of Truth or Dare” was a pretty fun pitch for a PG-13 horror movie aimed at teen audiences. The mechanics and history of the supernatural party game are a secondary concern. We’re just supposed to have fun watching people play it, but the film spends a heck of a lot of screen-time on a heck of a lot of unnecessary and half-baked exposition anyway. And nothing ruins fun like a whole bunch of arbitrary rules. Or tedious homework assignments.
Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare is frustrating because there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been superficially entertaining, but the filmmakers chose to emphasize the plot over the metaphor. The film’s plot is laughable, the metaphor is not. Again, shame and peer pressure (especially if it takes the form of mass hysteria, which it totally could have done here) are relatable and scary ideas. The filmmakers could have made a movie that made no sense whatsoever, but if they twisted those nerves they would have gotten away with it. And although there are several scenes about characters agonizing over revealing their past sins, those moments are wholly overshadowed by other scenes in which those same characters argue about the right search engine to use to learn more about the plot.