CREDIT: Peter Iovino/Universal Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Landon Liboiron, Nolan Gerard Funk, Sophia Ali, Sam Lerner, Aurora Perrineau

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Douchey College Behavior, Serious Alcoholism, Disturbing Secrets, Freaky Images, Sudden Broken Bones and Gunfire, and One Quick Sex Scene

Release Date: April 13, 2018

It takes a while for Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare to really get going. At first it’s just about a group of college friends hanging out in Mexico on spring break, which is fair enough because these movies are often about attractive young people whose lives get upended by some ancient curse. But you would think there would be a little more foreboding about the dangers to come. Instead, we get the most banal opening credits sequence in a good long while, which is effectively just a social media vacation slideshow that is livened up in no way at all with genre signifiers. At least the first third gives us Ronnie (The Goldbergs’ Sam Lerner), the ultimate parody of a fratty interloper, who delivers beautiful poetry like, “I can’t say no to shots. Everyone knows that.”

Thankfully director Jeff Wadlow and his fellow screenwriters figure out how to make their premise truly unsettling about halfway through. The stakes of the titular game, cursed by a demonic presence, are literally life-or-death: tell the truth, or you die; complete your dare, or you die. Trouble is, the challenges can be just as lethal as the consequences. When these kids are not told to literally kill someone, they are asked to reveal secrets that might drive their friends to kill themselves. There are Final Destination-style dynamics of victims being picked off one by one here, but the methods used to terrorize them are uniquely effective. This is the horror of confronting painful secrets that can lead to irreparable rifts between loved ones. On top of that, there is the creepy signature visual effect involving faces contorted into uncanny valley-style bulging eyes and unnaturally stretched-lips smiles.

While it is appreciably unsettling, Truth or Dare could have taken more care to grapple with its morality. It confronts the eternal dilemma of choosing between saving a small group of loved ones and a larger group of strangers, as well as the conflict between self-interest versus protecting others who may not be deserving of such care. Olivia (Lucy Hale) is both the narrative and moral center. She gives money to the homeless and professes that she would save the larger group, while dealing with her own feelings for the boyfriend of her best friend, who is constantly cheating on him. This all leads to an ending that is undeniably devastating that but might just betray the message that Olivia has attempted to demonstrate throughout. It is fine when a horror flick ends on a sour note, but it is not exactly playing fair when it is such a stark departure from what has come before.

Truth or Dare is Recommended If You Like: It Follows But Wish It Were More Like Traditional Friday Night Multiplex Horror (For Good and For Ill), The Ring, Final Destination

Grade: 3 out of 5 Creepy Smiles