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Given the current obsession with reboots, revisits and rehashes, it’s strange that the Final Destination franchise hasn’t cheated death and been dragged back to life after five films and $665m in the bank. It’s even stranger given that its legacy has been haunting lesser pretenders in the past year from the incompetent shlock of Wish Upon to the snappy, if throwaway, slashery of Happy Death Day. Blumhouse, the phenomenally successful company behind the latter (last year also saw them turn Get Out and Split into global smashes) is now hoping to milk yet more money from the death-heavy formula with Truth or Dare, a slick college-set horror.
If the gasps and guffaws during my screening are any indication, it’s likely Blumhouse will have another crowd-pleasing franchise on its hands (Happy Death Day 2 is on the way, along with sequels to other Blumhouse hits like The Purge, Insidious and Unfriended) with a nifty, if derivative, gimmick that lends itself to multiple sequels. Rather than a disaster-predicting premonition, this time it’s a cursed game that finds its way into the lives of a group of college kids, enjoying their final spring break in Mexico.
They’re led by Olivia (the Pretty Little Liars star Lucy Hale) who is a brunette, so is therefore earnest and pure; she spends her time making YouTube videos to help support Habitat for Humanity. Her best friend, Markie (The Flash star Violett Beane), is blonde and is therefore rebellious and spends her time cheating on her boyfriend. Along with their similarly well-drawn friends, they get dragged into playing a game of Truth or Dare inside a creepy chapel by a handsome stranger who reveals to them that he only took them there to save himself. They pass it off as drunken bluster but when they return to their normal lives, strange things start happening.
Each friend is visited by a demonic presence that overtakes the body of someone close to them in order to ask the all-important question. The rules of the game are simple: you choose truth or you choose dare. If you decide to skip, you die. It took four writers to come up with this.
After a rushed, entirely unscary opening scene and some rather dry character-setting dialogue, there are some smartly crafted titles that showcase the group’s vacation through social media posts alone. It’s indicative of the film that follows, which sees college students behaving like college students would, forever texting, snapping and gramming, one of the film’s more believable touches. Slightly less believable are the specifics that get the group to play a game in a clearly haunted hill-top building, an awful decision that’s never justified as anything other than “something that would happen in a horror movie”. Along with the deadly game, this dim-witted behavior follows them back home.
Hackneyed horror tropes persist throughout and so does some crushingly exposition-heavy dialogue (“Since my dad took his own life, you’ve been my only family”) but it rattles along at a fair lick, never resting for too long before another nasty surprise. Even most of the death scenes feel rushed, highlighting the PG-13 rating that the film has secured, and one does miss the Grand Guignol extravagance of the Final Destination franchise. Still, the director, Jeff Wadlow, has a puppyish eagerness to impress, shock and entertain and as silly as the film might get, it’s never dull.
It’s a clear sign of the times that as well as battling a supernatural force, the characters also have “issues” to contend with, sort of like a shallow genre take on 13 Reasons Why. There’s alcoholism, bereavement, sexual abuse and dealing with one’s sexuality. Most of it is admirably handled yet the latter subplot leads to one of the film’s most regrettable lines – “Your dad didn’t know you’re gay? Your ringtone is Beyoncé!” – which prompted more groans in the screening than any of the death scenes.
With the remaining characters forced to turn detective in order to find the origin of the curse, the film starts feeling less like The Ring and more like Scooby-Doo. But Hale is a committed lead and it all builds to an audaciously nutty climax. There’s something oddly charming about the film’s dogged, goofy attempt to earnestly write the rules of a franchise that will clearly be haunting cinemas, or sleepovers, for years to come. Truth: it’s watchable trash. Dare: bring back Final Destination instead.
- Truth or Dare is released in the US and the UK on 13 April
Source: The Guardian
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