TRUTH OR DARE. US, 2018. Starring Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sophia Ali, Landon Liboiron, Nolan Gerard Funk, Sam Lerner, Hayden Szeto. Directed by Jeff Wardlow. 100 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, sex, coarse language).
How to review this film? Probably the best way is to respond to the challenge of the title, truth or dare. In this scenario, those who tell the truth generally benefit. Those who dare are asked to do something impossible and/or immoral and suffer the consequences.
So. One of the truths is that this film is geared towards a young adult audience. The main characters are all in their final year at college, going on their Spring Break. It is the 20 plus or minus age group that is the target for the marketing of Truth or Dare. Perhaps those a little older may think it reminds them too much of their past and they would be happy to forget aspects of it. For those even older, the film may seem even younger!.
This is one of those horror films that emerge in rather great numbers every year. There is usually a group of young men and young women, a mysterious character, and they are asked to be involved in something that they normally would avoid – in this case to play a game of Truth or Dare while visiting the ruins of a mission in Mexico. Not a good sign.
In fact, the writers of the screenplay have enjoyed themselves with a whole lot of hocus-pocus. It claims that diabolical entities which can be called up – in this case, Mexican evil entities – can possess not only people but objects and ideas. This time the evil spirit is possessing the game of Truth or Dare.
And, there is a religious dimension to the hocus-pocus. The setting is a Catholic mission set up in the 19th century. There has been something of a massacre in the mid-1960s – where a group of young women had become novices in a religious order and were under the guidance of the local priest (seen only in a photograph and then his face fading from the photograph) who was something of a sexual predator. The spirit was called up so that people might be freed but, in fact, the spirit possesses the game and, from game to game, a player is possessed and continues to find friends who might be able to liberate them – all for them to be in turn possessed and destroyed.
Which means that the group on spring break, having a somewhat wild time drinking, dancing, flirting, are persuaded by their very serious friend, Olivia (Lucy Hale) to respond to the invitation of a mysterious young man to play the game.
Some rather blunt truth is told, and the game follows them home or, perhaps, more realistically, has taken possession of them. What happens is that those who tend to tell the Truth continue to survive whereas those who try the Dare initiative die, gruesomely.
This raises even more tensions amongst the group, their trying to work together, overcome some disastrous truths which are revealed, contact a woman who had been part of the game and whom the audience has seen setting fire to a woman in a supermarket at the beginning of the film. They talk with the police. They also track down one of the original novices from the Mexican mission – who had called up the spirit, cut out her tongue in order to eliminate the presence of the spirit, has a formula for incantation by which the spirit can return from whence it came.
Needless to say, it doesn’t quite work out that way which is part of the entertainment value of this kind of horror exercise. Who will survive? Will anyone survive? Is the spirit still possessing the game somewhere or other in California?
Universal Released April 12th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.