Here’s the interesting thing with horror franchises aimed at teens. They usually have a hook, they’re usually considered low brow garbage by everyone but the teens they’re aimed at, and within a generation they’re awesome (or at least the first film is).
The 70’s had Halloween. The 80’s – A Nightmare on Elm Street. The 90’s – Scream. The 00’s – Final Destination.
So, going through the checklist you have (gimmick wise): An inhuman killing machine masquerading as a man-in-a-mask / being killed in your dreams / being killed by a human killing machine, but in a REALLY meta way / and being killed by death itself.
All initially seen as silly entertainment, if not outright crap. All retconned as classics.
And this decade (albeit a bit late) is offering up Truth or Dare.
Let’s see if it ticks the boxes too… a contrived idea at its core? Check! In this case the world famous teenage party game Truth or Dare.
Is it garbage? Check – but will it STAY that way?
If it makes money (and it has) probably not, because a slew of sequels will likely be coming. Although this first film at least has the “decency” of ending in a way that’ll make that difficult (but not impossible… so…bravo there…?).
Anyway – story wise Truth or Dare follows a group of teenagers on a spring break type holiday in Mexico. The dynamic between them is the usual fare with a horny couple, a douchebag, 2 female best friends, and an unspoken love triangle with a boyfriend who’s with one friend; but has feelings for the other.
And in terms of tokenism they’ve even combined the Asian BFF and the gay guy into one. Which is both progressive and lazy when you think about it. (And in the best traditions of Hollywood, he’s 32 in real life! So definitely bravo there!)
Anyway, the lead girl – played by Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale – meets a guy at a bar and he invites her and her friends to get blasted somewhere that’s off-the-beaten track and NOT touristy. (‘Cause that’s cool kids!).
It’s the ruins of an abandoned mansion and once there he mentions they should play a game. A silly game made more fun with alcohol, so what’s the harm…?
And thus starts the movie proper as the kids all play a round of Truth or Dare. Once they do that, they are “locked in” to playing it for real (for reasons that DO get explained – so don’t worry) in the order that they played.
Of course, they don’t know that straight away, as the mysterious guy disappears into the night, and the teens all return to school life.
But then one by one they hear voices or are approached by people with Joker like faces to play Truth or Dare. If they refuse they find themselves dying in graphic suicidal ways. Should they tell a lie – same, or they fail the dare – same.
And before you think “well there’s the truth loophole, ie: just pick truth every time” the writers have figured a way around that, that is half “oh come on”, and half “meh – that’s fair”.
When watching this I was looking at it through the Final Destination lens. Ie: with a helpful serving of salt and willingness to be carried along by it’s internal logic. And for the most part it holds up.
But it’s still not immune to a handful of moments that plonk it into “that is so stupid” territory. Not least of which is the way (and reason) they get the lead girl and guy to have sex…
Will probably be seen as a landmark film by Millennials and Trillennials (which is the name I’m giving people who will be in their 20’s in the 30’s). But for the here and now, it probably would have been just as good (if not better) had they played spin the bottle.
– Antony Yee