That timeless game of adolescence, Truth or Dare, may sound silly in an adult context — but what if refusing to spill your darkest secrets had lethal consequences? With that outrageous moral dilemma at its center, “Truth or Dare” takes audience on a wild, gruesome ride. The bloody Blumhouse production is clearly designed to build on 2017’s surprise horror hit “Happy Death Day,” and while it doesn’t quite hit the same stride, “Truth or Dare” is still a crowdpleaser that has just enough tension, jump-scares, and twisted deaths to please horror lovers eager for some thrills.
Spring break is made for mistakes, but Olivia (Lucy Hale) doesn’t plan to spend her time getting wasted and hooking up with strangers in a foreign country. Instead, she intends to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity. But Olivia’s group of friends, led by her bestie Markie (Violett Beane), aren’t going to let Olivia spend her final college break helping others. Instead, they offer her an alternative option: Head to Mexico for spring break and they’ll all pitch in to build houses at the end of the semester. It’s an offer Olivia can’t refuse, and a choice she’ll soon come to regret. Of course.
Once in Mexico, Olivia watches as Markie drunkenly dances with strangers behind her boyfriend, Lucas’ (Tyler Posey) back. There’s an undeniable connection between Olivia and Lucas, but she’s too afraid to voice her feelings and instead, she covers for her best friend. As her friends hook up all around her, Olivia drifts to the bar where she meets Carter (Landon Liboiron), a handsome stranger who offers her a drink and some much-needed attention. When Carter suggests that Olivia and her friends head to a secluded spot to drink some more, she’s more than eager to keep the party going. Olivia is keen on pleasing everyone around her, but she’s also looking to make Lucas a little jealous.
And so the group, led by Carter, head to an abandoned monastery where they start up the inevitable game of truth or dare. The dares are innocuous enough, drunken lap dances and make out sessions between the girls — but it’s the truth that offers the film’s first wounds, as Markie is asked if she has ever noticed that Olivia is in love with her boyfriend. When it’s Carter’s turn he also chooses truth, and his response is chilling. Carter admits that he picked Olivia because she was an easy target. He lured her and her friends to play truth or dare because he doesn’t want to die and he has no problem watching strangers die in his place. Olivia is stunned, but no one takes Carter seriously — not until they get back home. Premise complete!
The concept of “Truth or Dare” is simple, and brutal, enough to meet expectations for the guilty pleasure one would expect: Tell the truth or complete your dare, and if you don’t, you die. Olivia quickly finds out that it’s not as simple as picking truth when she’s forced to shout out in front of half of her college campus that Markie is constantly cheating on Lucas. In this game, telling the truth has personal consequences that are just are devastating as any dare. Olivia is confused by what happened in the library, and tries to explain to her friends, but no one believes her.
It doesn’t take long for the body count to rise, starting with a brutal party incident involving a poolside antics that end with one man’s snapped neck. In true millennial fashion, the death is captured on video, uploaded to social media, and texted to Olivia and her friends. Then the deaths keep coming, and while they have their fair share of morbid creativity, as a whole they feel like rejects from the “Saw” franchise: no blood or guts, just glimpses of each character’s fate paired with crunching sound effects to make audiences squirm on cue.
Once Olivia and her friends realize the game is real, “Truth or Dare” guarantees more violent twists by upping the ante: If one player chooses truth, the other must choose dare! So there’s a drunken Penelope (Sophia Ali), forced to stumble along the edge of their roof until she finishes an entire bottle of vodka, and there’s Brad (Hayden Szeto), who must hold his police officer father at gunpoint until he sufficiently begs for his life. The game is intelligent, it knows the weakness of each player and exploits it, driving a wedge between the friends it doesn’t send to an early grave.
It’s a crass homage, but “Truth or Dare” tips its hat to “It Follows,” where a viral curse must be continually passed along through sex. But director Jeff Wadlow (“Kick Ass 2”) fails to sustain the same terrifying atmosphere or nervy tension as the 2015 horror hit. “Truth or Dare” is elevated in part due to a great performance by Hale, and by exploring the relationship between Olivia and Markie, childhood best friends who have become even closer following the suicide of Markie’s father. But Olivia is harboring a dark secret about his death, one that she won’t be able to hide from the game or from Markie for much longer.
In the pantheon of recent Blumhouse hits, “Truth or Dare” doesn’t have the savvy commentary of “Get Out” or the meta vibes of “Happy Death Day,” but its eager-to-please concept is infectious. For all of the film’s ridiculous moments, and there are plenty, Wadlow manages to deliver a few solid gut punches and twists that give the story just enough weight to keep viewers hooked. “Truth or Dare” doesn’t aspire to groundbreaking heights, but it’s got just the right mix of laughs and scares to keep viewers engaged with the ridiculous concept they signed up to watch — and a welcome finale that suggests the game could come back for another round in the future.
“Truth or Dare” opens nationwide on April 13, 2018.