Hollywood’s Friday the 13th horror offering for 2018 is “Truth or Dare,” a movie concocted by no fewer than four writers that posits a possessed version of the late-night party game in which trapped participants die if—or rather when—they refuse to play or follow the rules. Obviously inspired by the “Final Destination” franchise (as well as “The Ring” pictures, and, further back, Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”), it’s produced by the Blumhouse factory, which is actually trying to create a brand by promoting it as “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare.”
Now Blumhouse has made some successful little horror movies, and one or two good ones, most notably “Get Out.” But this is not among their better stuff. It’s an extremely silly dead teen flick that’s as tedious as it is dumb, hardly the sort of thing you should want your name inextricably associated with.
That goes for the unfortunate cast members, too, who play an assortment of California college friends who go to Mexico for an exciting spring break. The squeaky-clean good girl is Olivia (Lucy Hale), who is enticed into going instead of working for Habitat for Humanity. Her BFF and roomie is flighty Markie (Violett Beane), who unlike Olivia has a studly boyfriend, Lucas (Tyler Posey). A second couple consists of cynical premed student Tyler (Nolan Gerard Funk) and his rather nondescript girlfriend Penelope (Sophia Ali). The other single chum is Brad (Hayden Szeto), a gay kid who’s keeping his sexuality a secret from his macho cop dad (Tom Choi). On their last night of fun south of the border, they’re joined by a thoroughly obnoxious classmate named Ronnie (Sam Lerner).
The group is soon enlarged further by the addition of a guy named Carter (Landon Liboiron), whom Olivia meets at the bar and who invites them all to go to an abandoned mission church nearby for a post-closing time celebration. It’s he who initiates the truth or dare game, in which they all participate until he bolts, telling Olivia that he has saved himself by foisting the cursed thing on them: they must play it indefinitely for its controlling demon’s pleasure—until each of them dies, of course.
Returning to school, they dismiss the whole business as bunk until the game begins intruding on their lives when some stranger or other, wearing a sudden ghoulish grin on his or her face, demands “Truth or Dare!” The seriousness of it all becomes apparent when those who refuse to play, or lie instead of telling the truth, or fail to complete a dare, die. These death scenes are supposed to be clever and surprising, like the ones in “Final Destination” were, but they’re not. They’re just boring.
Even worse are the instances in which, compelled to tell the truth, the potential victims blurt out secrets—about infidelity, or the real reasons behind a relative’s suicide, or about one’s sexual preference, or about who really loves whom. These sorry moments play like bathetic highlights from a bad CW teen soap opera—but that might be a redundancy, since are there any other kind?
As if all that weren’t bad enough, the movie culminates in a long explanation of what’s going on, delivered by a mute Mexican woman who scribbles her revelations on the pages of a scratch pad. The origin of the curse turns out to be ridiculous, and the means of resolving the situation idiotically complicated, leading to still more deaths. An ineptly staged coda proves to be the moment frightening thing the movie has to offer, simply because it threatens a sequel.
The cast struggle to bring some life to the material, but it’s a lost cause, especially considering Jeff Wadlow’s leaden direction. None of the characters go beyond sketch level, and some of them are positively repulsive. As a result it’s impossible to care what fate befalls any of them.
Even technically the picture is a bust—Melanie Jones’s production design is mediocre (especially in the Mexican scenes—with the obviously phony exterior of the church a major flaw), and Jacques Jouffret’s cinematography is often either too dark or imperfectly composed. Sean Albertson’s editing comes across as haphazard—he could have shed at least ten minutes or more without any loss—and Matthew Mergeson’s music adds nothing to the ambience.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that this movie is being released on Friday the 13th, after all, because one thing is certain about “Truth or Dare”: those who go to see it are guaranteed two hours of bad luck.