Spring breaks in Mexico are going to be out of order after watching Truth or Dare. While there’ve been similar iterations based on the truth or dare game format, including a 2017 TV movie of the same name, this edition of the concept starring Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale is quite a thrilling experience.
We start with Hale’s Olivia being dragged down to Mexico by her best friend Markie (Violett Beane) for their last spring break together before graduating. Coming along for the ride are Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey) and three other friends not really worth mentioning. While partying the night away, Olivia, single and ready to mingle, runs into a kind spirit in Carter (Landon Liboiron), who happens to find himself alone at the bar with her. The two have an engaging conversation together that ends up with Carter dragging Olivia and her drunk friends to an abandoned Catholic mission for extra drinks. Great idea, right?
Carter coaxes everyone to play a testy game of truth or dare before he runs off abruptly, mentioning that he brought Olivia out to the church because he needed someone with friends to trick into coming. He says Olivia looked like a pushover and an easy target (no Bueno). He apologizes and runs away, but not before giving a warning to Olivia.
“Tell the truth or you die. Do the dare or you dire.”
Olivia looks dumbfounded as Carter runs off. What everyone else in the church doesn’t understand is that the truth or dare game isn’t over.
When Olivia and co return back Stateside to complete their senior year, they soon experience this demonic spirit manifested as a person in the environment, compelling them to play their turn. Truth or dare? Choose truth and you must say the truth. Choose dare and you must do the dare. If you don’t comply, you die. Quite horribly I might add. Olivia’s in the thick of things, trying to save all her friends from meeting the reaper while at the same time trying to convince them that the game is real.
Truth or Dare isn’t cut in the same cloth as some other franchises like Final Destination or Saw. It’s not as bloody or gruesome in its execution and occupies a more comfortable middle ground. The Mexican spirits are somewhat kinder you might add. What undercuts its gore factor merely is that game participants can choose “truth.” Of course, this adds a different form of distress because the spirit evokes your turn at the most inopportune moment to reveal the truth when you least expect it. Why don’t you tell your friend’s been cheating on his boyfriend in the library in front of everyone including said boyfriend? Sound good?
There’s an inbuilt respite through the game, or so the group assumes. They assume that the dares are going to be incrementally more challenging than blurting out a truth, so they choose the latter. That’s until the game flips and this demon spirit later revealed as Calax, flips the script on everyone involved. The friends learn the mechanics and rules of the game as they play it while at the same time figuring out how to end it.
While Calax challenges the group physically, he also tries to mess around emotionally. Once the movie gets into the second and third acts, you begin to understand when the demon forces the next participant to choose his preferred method of poison, truth or dare. It leads to a slow buildup of suspense by creating a recurring formula, and as a viewer, you begin to expect the demon’s appearance. Each dare and each truth is specifically catered to target a person’s weakness, and the writers use the game to add some depth to the characters. What defines these people? Who do they love? Who do they hate? What are they hiding? Everything gets revealed during the film and Olivia and company race against the clock with their lives hanging in the balance.
As I recalled previous franchises like Saw and Final Destination, I must repeat that Truth or Dare isn’t devious or sadistic in its means of killing. In the movie, the origin story for the creation of the game sprung out of playfulness. Calax, in getting involved with the game, evokes this same tone and feeling with his truths and dares, forcing people to do rather juvenile tasks that inevitably end up as disasters for game players.
It’s a refreshing experience as it delivers a steady supply of shocks in some senseless tragedies without taking things into extremes as some other movies might. For a more tame and softer horror-thriller, Truth or Dare is a fine candidate.
If you like horror movies, check out our other reviews here.