Paranormal Activity may have put Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions on the map way back in 2009, but the company’s crowning achievement undoubtedly came last year, with the arrival of its two biggest hits to date in Get Out and Split. Years before Jordan Peele earned an Oscar and M. Night Shyamalan finally returned to the world of Unbreakable, Blumhouse was busy specializing in giving emerging filmmakers a boost via low-budget horror projects.
However, while Truth or Dare still falls squarely within that purview, the film also marks a first for the studio, as its marketing campaign embraces the brand loyalty it has fostered throughout sleeper hits like last year’s Happy Death Day. But coming off the heels of its most high-profile year yet, does Truth or Dare — excuse us, Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare (as its poster proudly proclaims) — deliver anything more than the company’s attempt to cash in on its reputation?
The film follows Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her friends as they hit Mexico for one last alcohol-fueled extravaganza during spring break (the opening credits are literally a montage of their ecstatic social media posts). The fun stops during their last night of partying, when a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger (Landon Liboiron) ropes them into a not-so-friendly game of, you guessed it, truth or dare. From there, the truths and dares come flying almost as fast as the bodies hit the floor, while the friends find themselves tormented by something supernatural. Prepare to have every horror film you’ve ever seen flash before your eyes for the next 100 minutes.
Notably, Truth or Dare hits theaters just one week after another PG-13 horror pic, John Krasinski’s critically lauded A Quiet Place, has reignited the eternal debate over whether projects with this rating can be considered “real horror.” While the latter has indeed proven that the MPAA’s ruling has little impact on a film’s ability to elicit genuine scares or ratchet up the intensity, the latest Blumhouse release turns out to be exactly the kind of horror movie that has perpetuated this obsession with ratings among some audiences. After all, for every film daring to create a distinctive vision of fear, countless impostors aim to ape their facade, often using a more palatable rating to rope in larger crowds of adolescents.
Director Jeff Wadlow has already dabbled in the young-people-playing-deadly-games subgenre with the micro-budget 2005 hit Cry Wolf, and one might think that experience would key him up to bring something fresh to Truth or Dare. Alas, the film — for which Wadlow shares screenwriting credit with no less than three other writers (another telltale sign of the movie’s prospects) — is paint-by-numbers storytelling at its most basic.
As each member of the main cast face their revolving turns in the titular game, the plot plays out like a toothless Final Destination sequel with a dash of It Follows thrown in for good measure. While it stumbles onto some shocking and suspenseful moments, Truth or Dare has little in store for moviegoers looking for real scares or compelling characters. If you think an actual game of truth or dare is repetitive, brace yourself for what lies ahead.
From its young and attractive cast (made up of Freeform, MTV and The CW stars, naturally) to its decidedly tame approach to what could have been a far gorier (but no more engaging) tale, Truth or Dare is a pure manifestation of commerce over art, exactly as those skeptical of its rating feared. Despite some brief flirtations with moralizing, the film ultimately has nothing to say or any new twists to show for itself. Instead, it is content to merely go through the motions, allowing more seasoned moviegoers to realize for themselves just how derivative it all is and hoping its target demographic is more forgiving.
And this lack in ambition makes Truth or Dare all the more disappointing. For those paying attention, the decision to use the Blumhouse name as the major selling point may have been a red flag that the final product probably had little to offer. Now that Blumhouse is established as a bonafide hit factory among the horror set, it would have been a pleasant surprise for Truth or Dare to upend expectations and find an angle for its gimmicky setup that actually delivered the goods. As it stands, the film fails as anything more than a way to enjoy the air conditioning of your local theater for a couple hours.
For some moviegoers, Truth or Dare may be just the mindless distraction they are looking for. Yet, the more discerning ones are better off seeing what else is playing instead. Just skip your turn and dodge this one entirely, especially since its ending threatens to kickstart a parade of increasingly mindless sequels. Blumhouse and its fans deserve better than they get with Truth or Dare.