Truth or Dare: Dull, sterile imagining of a fun premise

Someone somewhere, for some reason, seems to have spoken these words out loud: “What if a bunch of teenagers got haunted by a ghost that possesses a Truth or Dare game?” Yes, ‘possess a game’. Get a load of that. Even Stephen King, that man whose crazy imagination made even a positively dull object like a laundry press seem devastating, must be shook by the idea of a drinking game getting possessed. Curiously though, Truth or Dare doesn’t seem half-bad for a while, in the same way that Final Destination offers quite a bit of guilty pleasure. However, the difference is, this film doesn’t want to settle for being generically enjoyable and meaningless. It’s constantly — and quite annoyingly — trying to be a scary horror film. There’s even a whole, ridiculous exorcism ritual planned at the end — and not in the tongue-in-cheek way it perhaps should have been.

Truth or Dare
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Cast: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane

A bunch of American teenagers land in Mexico to make the most of spring break, but their Truth or Dare game turns inexplicable horrific and gory. This is the sort of premise that should give you plenty to laugh at, but instead, it’s all laughable. It’s a story that almost incredulously tries to explore a love triangle, and the father issues of at least two main characters…. It’s almost as if noone behind its making realised that any efforts to solemnify this inherently mad material, would only be futile. All this effort would have been better channelled in making all the deaths more creative. Instead, you get a dude simply breaking his head on a bar table. Another shoots self. A demonic spirit is out on the loose, and playing havoc with people through a Truth or Dare game. It’s safe to say it definitely wouldn’t use such banal ways of killing people.

The only fun you may end up having in this film is of the variety quite unintended by director Jeff Wadlow. Through its run-time of 100 minutes, you are partly entertained by the ludicrousness of a bunch of teenagers being scared to play Truth or Dare. In one very serious scene, in which the teens are trying to figure out how their game in Mexico came to be haunted, one girl puts her hands up in resignation and says that her Facebook searches have been in vain. Another girl has a brainwave and asks, “Did you try googling ‘Mexico Truth or Dare’?” Everyone looks pretty impressed. I wanted to tear the theatre screen, get into their universe, and point and laugh at the idiocy of it all.

It’s a mark of how utterly wrong they’ve got the treatment of this film that as the story plods on, even the inherent farcicality of the premise begins to wear off. Towards the end, you walk out with an expressionless face, the fatigued reaction of someone who’s just climbed over a mountain of cliches. I know I caught it because I had to review it, but the others… a dare maybe?

This column was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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