By Liam Lacey
The truth is, Truth or Dare, dares to be extremely unoriginal. The same title/premise has been used for three previous unrelated movies in the past decade (2012, 2013, 2017), each involving a small group of young people who play the embarrassing party game and unleash something evil. It’s almost spooky how scriptwriters keep recycling the idea.
The latest Truth or Dare also goes by the title Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, in tribute to producer Jason Blum, the micro-budget horror producer responsible for the Paranormal Activity, Purge and Insidious franchises. Also, he produced Jordan Peele’s excellent Get Out. So maybe he gets a mulligan for this turkey.
The story focuses on a half-dozen college housemates from Pretty Vacant U., where everyone has a MacBook but never opens a real book. Goody-two-Shoes undergrad Olivia (Lucy Hale) plans to spend her spring break building houses for Habitat for Humanity. Instead, she gets tricked into travelling with her housemates to Tijuana, Mexico, where after a week of partying, everyone catches a bad case of the Truth or Dare curse — a kind of demonic dysentry that wrecks havoc with your impulse control.
The chief instigator of the trip is Olivia’s promiscuous best friend, Brittany Spears lookalike, Markie (Violett Beane). Her boyfriend is a smouldering model type name Lucas (Tyler Posey), though he and Olivia are also sizing each other up.
Also in the crew are a snooty pre-med student and his drunk girlfriend, an annoying horn-dog named Ronnie and a likeable gay Asian-American guy, Brad (Hayden Szeto).
On the gang’s last night in Tijuana, responsible-but-lonely Olivia meets a skeevy hipster named Carter (Landon Liboiron) who invites everyone to an after-party at smelly old abandoned mission church. When the action in the nave proves a little slow, Carter suggests they play a game of Truth or Dare. After a couple of revelations about who is hot for whom, Carter’s drops his own truth bomb: He has lured them here so he can pass a curse on them so he can stay alive.
Back in school, post-hangovers, Olivia and her friends discover an illegal Mexican demon has sneaked across the border with them.
As well as leaving notes, keying cars, and texting messages, the demon’s favourite trick is to inhabit someone’s face like a kooky camera app and then stretch it into a Joker smirk before saying in a distorted voice, “Truth or Dare!” That face-stretching trick happens about twenty times in the movie and it never fails to not shock.
“The game is playing us,” shrieks Olivia.
Worse, it seems to keep forgetting the rules. You die if you don’t tell the truth but also, if you don’t accept a dare — ie. if you have a secret you refuse to tell. Somehow, the game makes Olivia tells the whole library about Markie’s sleeping around. It also causes a couple of other characters to die.
And Brad, is compelled to come out to his policeman father, which is confusing but sweet. Let’s just say there are, inluding director Jeff Wadlow, four screenwriters credited on the film and they do not seem to have collaborated.
While Olivia and Markie squabble about who gets Lucas, the gang use their collective internet skills to find out the secret of the Mexican curse. Markie, for example, searches “Mexico” and “Truth or Dare” which leads her to a mute nun in the desert, who provides them with the back story.
Truth or Dare makes much of how tech-savvy the kids are, with their buzzing phones, demonic texts and familiar references to Google, Facebook, Snapchat and viral YouTube videos.
Yet, the characters fail to employ basic technology to help their research: Using an image search engine, for example, to identify a face, or blocking an IP address to hide their identities.
Perhaps it’s not entirely their fault: Even your online education can suffer when you’ve caught a case of the Truth or Dare trots.
Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare. Directed by Jeff Wadlow. Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane and Hayden Szeto. Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare screens at the Scotiabank Theatre and Silvercity Yorkdale