Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare (Universal Pictures, PG-13)

I had very low expectations for Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, and those expectations were met. I find myself saying this often when it comes to middle-of-the-year horror films. Especially when they’re based on a children’s game. Yet they do have the power to entertain, not so much as compelling cinema but as cultural objects. They’re not scary or clever, but so predictable and sloppy so as to be a kind of pure escapism and a commentary on our current day. Going into the theater and watching something from Blumhouse, with a few exceptions (Get Out), is like curling up under the covers and watching internet videos. And how appropriate, as this film and others like it have a blatant social media presence which Baby Boomer and Gen X producers clumsily force in, hoping to attract us Millennials. I guess they figure that in order to get us to look away from our phones, the characters in the movie need to constantly talk about Snapchat and Facebook. The clash of shadowy lighting and spikes of violin chords with a digital “bloop” and Twitter’s baby blue aesthetic ends up being more comical than relevant.

Lucy Hale plays Olivia, the stick-in-the-mud trope, while Violette Bean plays Markie, her best friend and party-girl trope (side note, why do they always give the “cool” chick a boy’s name?). Markie brings the very reluctant Olivia along on a spring break trip to Mexico with their friends. At a club, Olivia meets the acquaintance of the handsome and mysterious Carter. Carter convinces her and the group to break into a creepy, decrepit church in the desert and continue their festivities. He then coerces the group, amazingly only slightly creeped out at this point, into a game of truth or dare. On his turn, he reveals that a demonic entity forced him to bring strangers into the game, and they are now cursed. They must continue to play or be killed by a malevolent spirit. He flees, and Olivia and her friends return home, where they encounter the presence which makes them engage in horrific dares or reveal dark truths, lest they become possessed and kill themselves.

Aside from the annoying digital inclusions, the film suffers from over-confidence. If this were a satire, then I’d me more willing to give it a pass. But by taking itself so seriously with such a ludacrous and simplistic concept, you get a lot of unintentional humor. What’s worse is the straighter the actors try to play it, the funnier it gets. That said, all of the actors do a pretty good job, and play somewhat interesting characters. Sure, they embody overdone archetypes, but some emotional history and unique dialog gives the actors a little more to work with than other cheap horror flicks. A rule of writing is that if you take away all the names, you should still have distinct enough characters that the reader can still tell who’s talking. A lot of cheap horror movies fail with this. A quick way to bore an audience is to have uninteresting characters. Since Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare mostly avoids this pitfall, it at least has our attention. As a result, it does engage to a certain degree, at least inciting laughter over its ridiculousness instead of making us fall asleep. As they say, bad press is better than no press. | Nic Champion

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