Truth or Dare feels like a poorly written episode of Pretty Little Liars, with only a slight increase in the effects budget. Lucy Hale, a former Liar, tries her best to sell it. There are a few character driven moments that deliver some genuine suspense or fear, but the writing and the horror both come up short. Truth or Dare isn’t quite broad or self-effacing enough to have a Scream Queens-like sense of self-awareness, nor does it deliver when it comes to scares–if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen its supposedly creepiest moments.
After a spring break trip to Mexico that involved a late-night game of truth or dare in an abandoned church with a mysterious stranger, a group of friends find themselves in a deadly supernatural version of the game. There are very specific rules: if you don’t choose between truth or dare, you die. If you don’t do take your turn, you die. The friends then race against the clock to outsmart the demon possessing their game and ruining their lives.
First I feel I must be a stickler on this: this movie does not follow the actual rules of truth or dare. The initial game within the movie involves people posing the question to one another willy-nilly, rather than the person who successfully completes their turn selecting their next victim. While it’s an expeditious way to expose the group’s fractures, it actually messes with the game’s obvious strategy and appeal, which is dunking on your friends while doing your best not to get dunked on in turn. There’s also a rule change partway through, though at least Truth or Dare has the good sense to acknowledge it as such.
Truth or Dare is adamantly a product of 2018. The characters use their cell phones to navigate the dark and use different social media platforms for different kinds of content, e.g. fun stuff on Snapchat versus what you’d want a hiring manager to find when they look you up on a YouTube channel. At other times, the social media gets pretty clunky, like when Lucy Hale is stuck delivering a line about how when people are possessed by the evil spirit, they look like they have a Snapchat filter. She’s right, but it’s still jarring. At one key point we’re also meant to believe that the characters are continually recording snaps for many minutes at a time, and the sporadic mentions of Hale’s YouTube channel feel a bit tacked on.
The use of social media works best in the opening credits where it serves to set the scene and define the key characters: the couple that won’t stop making out, featuring A Very Drunk Girl (Sophia Ali) and A Very Acerbic Boy (professional beautiful young douchebag, Nolan Funk); the gay friend (Hayden Szeto) with no interest in making out with very drunk girl; a tagalong bro (Sam Lerner), who has no business in this group, which the other characters state out loud repeatedly; and the BFFs plus one boyfriend (Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey), who seems to have some longing glances for his girl’s best friend (Lucy Hale), but his girl’s (Violett Beane) too busy salsa dancing with everyone else to notice.
The cast could have come from the set of a CW show or a United Colors of Benetton ad, which is to say they’re all beautiful, young (but a bit too old for their roles), and strategically diverse. The group errs on the side of bland white boy, but Truth or Dare smartly dispenses with its most annoying cast members first, leaving the interesting or at least more plot-inducing people to live longer.
Truth or Dare tries to break from the tropes of killing off all of it’s people of color first, and only saving virgins. But Mexican-American Tyler Posey’s Lucas is coded white in spite of Lucas’ last name, Moreno. Was it really necessary to also have the actor, who grew up with a Spanish-speaking mother, be the character who is the worst at the language? And why then give him a Latinx last name?
The script tried to ground the story by hooking in some serious and hot-button issues, like sexual violence and a closeted gay friend. There isn’t much time to build out each of these seven characters, but their circumstances are familiar enough that when the gay friend picks truth while standing in front of his father, my theater audibly gasped with knowing concern. Truly, the film’s real tension comes from the personal and social consequences of telling the truth.
It’s hard not to continually compare the movie to PLL, given the investigatory dynamic and the setup of a mysterious force pulling the strings to make their lives alternately enticing and miserable, often at one another’s expense. But Pretty Little Liars was ultimately a character-driven show that churned through tons of plot, as opposed to this concept-driven movie that occasionally to fill out its characters.
After seeing a surprising amount of range from Tyler Posey, especially during the later years of Teen Wolf and his turn on Jane the Virgin, I’m pulling for him. Unfortunately he’s stuck delivering most of the more ridiculous lines, and his response to this seems to be to get more wooden. His delivery seems to rise and fall with the quality of the material he is given. While I can’t fault him for that, Lucy Hale more successfully elevates even the schlockiest bits of the film, probably after years of practice with PLL.
I won’t spoil for the ending, but let’s just say it’s less than satisfying. Despite the refreshing fact that the characters make (more or less) smart decisions, the ending breaks any momentum they had built with their investigation and escalating attempts to outwit the game. Ultimately, Truth or Dare is too uninterested in its characters for such a character-driven ending to feel earned, and the lack of scares makes the journey to get there pretty lackluster.