Blumhouse taps into angst and the brutality of teenage friendships in Truth or Dare, the latest chiller from the red-hot horror studio that spent last year triumphing at the box office (and even the Oscars) with the films Get Out, Split, and Happy Death Day. Truth or Dare isn’t on the level of those titles, though it’s clearly intended to carry on the light-hearted, soft-horror antics of Happy Death Day (unfortunately without the former’s sharp wit and creativity), That said, but it does have its own brand of soapy, giggling thrills to deliver, even if it sometimes has you wondering if your laughing at the movie or with it.
Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars) stars as Olivia, the goody-two-shoes of her friend group, who plans to spend her spring break building houses with Habitat for Humanity (and evangelizing about it on her YouTube channel) until her harder-partying friends remind her it’s their last spring break together and snatch her up for a tequila-fuelled trip to Mexico. Leading the charge is Markie (The Flash‘s Violett Beane), Olivia’s BFF, who’s grieving the loss of her father and has a good heart, despite the fact that she’s constantly cheating on her boyfriend, the toothless all-American sweetheart Marcus (Teen Wolf‘s Tyler Poesy). If that isn’t enough crisis in one sentence for you, it’s also painfully obvious that Marcus and Olivia have feelings for each other, a fact that flies right under Markie’s easily distracted nose, but is crystal clear to everyone else.
The rest of the squad is fairly one-note, but they fill out some iconic tropes of the teen drama. The standout is Brad (The Edge of Seventeen star Hayden Szeto), the son of a hardass cop who can’t quite work up the nerve to tell his dad he’s gay, despite being out and proud on campus. Then there’s the smirking, semi-douchey couple; Party girl Penelope (Grey Anatomy‘s Sophia Taylor Ali) and her Ken Doll boyfriend Tyson (Counterpart’s Nolan Gerard Funk), a smug pre-med bro from a long line of doctors who feels so Gossip Girl his last name should be van der Woodsen. Finally, there’s Ronnie (Sam Lerner), super douche who’s always inviting himself where he’s not wanted.
During their last night of heavy partying in Mexico, the friends are lured to a decrepit church by obviously sketchy scruffy boy Carter (Landon Liboiron), where they play a harmless round of truth or dare. Except it’s not harmless. And not just because Tyson’s a total dick about it, throwing Olivia under the bus the first chance he gets. Sure, there’s the requisite lap dance and girl-on-girl kiss, but when Carter chooses truth, he reveals that he brought them there because he’s comfortable watching strangers die as long as it means he gets to live and runs out on them. Not before telling Olivia that the game is real, and if they want to live, they have to play. Sure enough, when they get back home, the game follows them, sending messages anyway it can, be it literal writing on the wall or swarms of warped, smiling people: “Truth or Dare?” It’s not long before bodies start dropping when people fail to follow through on the horrible things they’re asked to do or say.
The concept borrows heavily from familiar horror hits. The only way to save yourself is to pass on the curse, which is right out of The Ring and It Follows playbooks, and death comes for them in the order they played the game, a very Final Destination touch. However, you won’t find any Final Destination-worthy kills here. For every bit of horror influence, there is double from teen soaps. With a leading cast cobbled together from some of TV’s most popular teen series, Truth or Dare plays like a CW-adjacent thriller that employs melodrama in the place of violence to torment its characters.
Sure, there are some dares, and the film employs the “two truths and a dare” rule to keep up the action, but even those bits hinge on inflicting emotional damage alongside the threat of violence, preying on the characters specific demons. But the real juice is in the truths — the demon messing with this kids is a messy bitch who lives for drama and it uses every truth to dig into their secrets and regrets for maximum damage. You can practically picture him filing his nails and cackling gleefully while he stages a bloody soap opera for his own amusment. Ultimately, Truth or Dare is about the danger of keeping secrets, told through the perspective to two best friends trying to hold on to their relationship despite their changing lives, and yes, a weirdly bitchy demon.
That makes for a movie that is almost never scary, something that will surely rub certain moviegoers the wrong way. In the place of scares, you get a delicious, giddy avalanche of truth bombs and backstabbing betrayal that make for a fine supernatural soap. Director Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) struggles with tone at times, but he employs a good sense of timing and clearly knows what kind of movie he’s making, allowing the audience to have fun with it instead of turning into a self-serious drudge. A second act set-piece involving an alcoholic, a big bottle of vodka and the perils of gravity delivers the kind of fun-fuelled thrills you wish the movie had a bit more of. Indeed, it’s a shame the film didn’t expend more energy coming up with clever or surprising kills and scare gags — surely a missed opportunity, even if they had to keep it PG-13 — but what we do get is plenty entertaining, filled with gasp-worthy moments and a surprising, profoundly dark moral cynicism.
Truth or Dare won’t be the best horror movie you see this year, it’s not even the best one you can see right now, but it has enough spicy drama to make The CW blush and the paranormal slant offers enough twisty thrills to keep you strapped in for the whole silly supernatural romp.