In the early spring doldrums between Marvel movies, horror remains the second-best bet at the box office when it comes to crowd-pleasing thrills, and this year has already seen some disturbing — and disturbingly good — entries in the genre. Both Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane and John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place have provided moviegoers with some twisted alternatives to seeing Black Panther for the 50th time. But, though those movies are both very good, teen horror is way more fun. Geared towards the young folks, scary movies featuring characters closer to their age group tend to feature plots made all the more uncomfortable by how expertly they prey on the insecurities teens and college students already spend every day fighting. Nervous about that job interview? Crushing on someone you shouldn’t be? Keeping secrets from your friends? Truth or Dare finds one friend group’s deepest, darkest fears and uses them to their world apart.
Yet another testament to horror production company Blumhouse’s (at times baffling) success, the latest entry into their Wow, I Can’t Believe I Actually Enjoyed That canon, Truth or Dare, mixes chilling dread with some potent scares in a plot that’s relentlessly fun to watch unfold. The premise is simple: A group of twentysomethings gets caught in a demonic game of Truth or Dare that, seemingly, can’t be stopped. It’s a bit like Saw — they have to do the dares and tell the truths or they’ll die in some horrible, graphic fashion (though the movie is relatively low on gore).
All-around nice gal Olivia (Lucy Hale) wants to spend her last college vacation doing service work for the less fortunate in Mexico, but her close-knit group of friends convince her to spend her final week of fun before school ends living it up in the true spirit of spring break. On their last tequila-hazed night, Olivia meets a friendly stranger at a bar named Carter (Landon Liboiron), spends all night talking to him, and then convinces her friends to tag along when he invites them to someplace “cool,” off the beaten path. Yeah, big mistake.
Her friends reluctantly agree to go along, and Carter leads them to what looks like an abandoned monastery or convent on top of a hill, where, after they all do some half-hearted rummaging around the dusty debris, he suggests innocuously that they all play a game of Truth or Dare. After some adolescent fun — one guy is dared to give another guy a lapdance, one girl is dared to kiss another — one of Olivia’s friends asks Carter what his flirtatious “intentions” are towards Olivia, and Carter, chillingly, tells them the truth. He needed a group of people to lure there and trap into a game, and he did it because he doesn’t have a problem with strangers dying so that he can save himself. As he runs away, he tells them the rules: Once you’re asked, you’re in; play the game right, or you die.
Naturally, nobody believes him — until people start dying in ever-more-horrible ways. This is where the most gruesome and frightening aspect of the plot comes into play, if you’re as messed up by uncanny valley stuff (as I tend to be). When one of the friends gets their “turn,” the entity that’s controlling the game appears to them in the form of a friend or a stranger nearby, but with a cheek-stretching, gum-splitting grin digitally plastered on their face. The group has to first convince each other that the game is real, survive their turns, and race to figure out how it began and how to stop it.