Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
April 2018

Truth or Dare

Truth is duller than fiction

On no-win situations, shoddy imaginations, PG-13 workarounds, and the cheap philosophical posturing of Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare
Universal Pictures
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Screenplay: Jillian Jacobs, Michael Reisz, Christopher Roach and Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Lucy Hale, Violett Beane, Tyler Posey, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk, Hayden Szeto, Aurora Perrineau, Tom Choi and Landon Liboiron
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 40 minutes / 2.39:1
April 13, 2018
(out of four)

You pick dare because dare is supposed to be more fun. What Truth or Dare presupposes is ... maybe it's not?

The film's cosmic joke - or cosmic punishment, rather - is that the participants in this round of the game I really don't think is as popular as movies keep trying to tell us it is are coerced into choosing dare. The game starts out innocuously enough - first taste is free - a mere diversion at the end of a drunken Spring Break night in Rosarito Beach. Only once they've gotten their feet wet do the rules begin to change on them.

Not that they're still interested in playing. The game simply follows them. Altered perceptions, phantom voices. Once the question appears in any form - graffitied on the side of a wall, written in a text message, a whisper in the ear - the recipient is in it, no (further) questions asked. You can choose truth, but only if the previous player picked dare. The choice is a tease. The dares - courtesy of whatever or whomever is governing the game - are generally designed to kill you and/or someone else. You're probably going to turn into an unwitting murderer, is what I'm saying. And, turns out, the alternative isn't much better; truth eventually turns into an inverted version of dare. And don't even try lying - that's a good way to get yourself killed in a hurry.

For a film in a constant flirtation with bloodshed as a condition of its entire structure - practically every third scene of which ends in a lethal wound or an emotional one - Truth or Dare manages to deny us the sense of wicked fun that should by all rights come with the territory. Like last year's similarly themed, equally execrable Wish Upon, there's a void of imagination in the way the film teases and punishes its characters. The plot encircles them all in a looping no-win situation in which every choice they make is inevitably the wrong one, and director Jeff Wadlow gives us a series of mostly ho-hum scenarios and proceeds to explain them to death. He and his co-writers belabor the point so much, and so often, that any theoretical sense of paranoia or fatalist dread is never given a chance to take hold.

This is a film that offers the following:

  • Not one but two (2) Google search scenes, which then turn into the ecstatically cinematic scenario of Facebook Messenger conversations.
  • A countless number of scenes in which either one character explains a set of rules to everyone else, or all of the characters converse to figure out, and explain, the rules of the game to each other.
  • A scene in which a participant from a previous round of Truth or Dare - she's still in the game, the last of her group, and a fugitive from justice on account of all the destruction she's been forced to leave in her wake - explains her entire background and how she and her friends got roped into the game.
  • Two separate, more modest explanations from Carter, the guy who convinced our pals to go to that crumbling, abandoned Mission in Rosarito and play a game of Truth or Dare in the first place.
  • A giant scene of exposition involving a mute old woman, made even longer and more interminable than it had any right to be by the simple fact that she can't talk, so she has to write down all of her exposition, and the movie waits for her to write down every single note, and also the notes are in Spanish, which means that after she writes them they then have to be recited out loud from one character (who speaks Spanish) to the non-Spanish speakers in the group. Truly a marvel of efficient visual storytelling.
  • Two (2) scenes set in a police station in which many important plot details are either revealed or re-explained.
  • Finally, nearly every selection of Truth (and even one carefully phrased Dare that amounts to Truth) leads to not just a revelation from one character to another, but often necessitates another long-winded explanation to fill in character backgrounds and phony emotional complications that have no business being there in the first place, let alone taking up time in a screenplay that already has more than enough moving pieces.

All the explaining and equivocating, the negotiating and the doubting - can we just get on with it?

Wadlow's answer is no. No we cannot get on with it. He is committed to getting as little fun out of this whole thing as possible. With his overlit images, his limited ingenuity, his nonexistent wit, he hardly even gave his cast a chance, to say nothing of the mediocre-to-bad performances he gets from them. Secondarily - and this is something that's likely more the studio's fault than his own - you can practically see the filmmakers straining to cut and cut and cut to secure a PG-13 rating (i.e. a violent slash to the neck followed by a shot of the victim's neck virtually spotless, with no laceration and just a tiny spot of blood on one side, like he nicked himself shaving).

The film attempts to couch its conceit in more philosophical terms; the characters begin their game with a discussion of a Trolley Problem-like moral dilemma. The screenplay tries to frame its events on those terms as much as it can, but who the hell does it think it's kidding. The result is a movie that makes the Final Destination series look like a series of profound biblical allegories by comparison. Why Blumhouse was so proud of this particular title that it took a possessory credit (the full title is Blumhouse's Truth or Dare) is a question more compelling than any supposed moral plight the film itself has to offer.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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