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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Truth or Dare, Review: How Dare you deny the Truth!

Truth or Dare, Review: How Dare you deny the Truth!

When you begin with a premise that you horror film need not give rational, or at least credible, explanations, you are free to employ any suitable elements that scare and shock the audience. Truth or Dare uses come of these props effectively, but the sheer predictability of the sequence of deaths makes it less worthwhile. Yes, the lead-ups to the grotesque ‘murders’ are imaginatively devised, not so the preceding contortions and demon’s voice. Give this a skip, unless you are a horrorholic.

Olivia, her best friend Markie, Markie's boyfriend Lucas, along with Penelope and her boyfriend Tyson Curran, and Brad Chang, go on a trip to Rosarito, Mexico. In Mexico, Olivia runs into fellow student Ronnie who proceeds to pile on to her, until a man intervenes on her behalf. The man introduces himself as Carter and eventually convinces her and her friends to join him for drinks at the ruins of a religious mission. There, Carter initiates a game of Truth or Dare with Olivia and her friends, plus Ronnie, who has followed the group. Eventually, the game ends when Carter reveals that he deceived Olivia as a means of tricking her and her friends to the mission to offer them in his place in the supernatural game of Truth or Dare. As Carter leaves, he explains to Olivia that the game will follow them, and they must not refuse it.

At a local college bar, sometime after everyone returned from Mexico, Ronnie dies when he fails to complete a dare. Olivia, having become convinced that Carter was telling the truth, attempts to convince her friends that the game is real. The game, playing in accordance to the order the group played in Mexico, turns to Markie, having already appeared to Olivia and Lucas, and she is commanded to break Olivia's hand, which Olivia readily agrees to, fearing worse consequences otherwise. At the hospital, Brad is then forced by the game into revealing to his father, Police Officer Han Chang, that he is homosexual. The next day, the sceptical Tyson lies when forced to tell a truth and, as a result, is forced to kill himself.

A game taking over its players may be a nightmare to imagine. As a twist to the supernatural horror/slasher genre, it would have had some novelty maybe 10 years ago, but that is steadily wearing off in 2018. To be fair, Michael Reisz, Jillian Jacobs, Chris Roach and Jeff Wadlow have done away with the board game scenario and, as an improvisation, brought in a game that is played without any object involved. Moreover, it is a game that is played currently, perhaps largely, among teens and twenties. That age group is exactly the film’s target audience. Secrets in the closets of the mind are bound to tumble out if you opt for Truth, and huge embarrassment is guaranteed. Choose Dare and you could end up killing yourself or a fellow player. Not your regular horror viewing, for sure. But once it becomes abundantly clear that the situation is fatal and futile, suspense subsides and voyeurism takes over, that is provided predictability does not pervade your senses earlier.

Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass, Non-Stop, Never Back Down) had the germ of an idea, but he goes with an unseen demon and flimsy motivation, if any, for its ghoulish designs. The demon possesses the members of the cast so frequently, and in such quick succession that any shock value it had is lost. Indicating the presence of the demon using grotesque facial contortions repeatedly reminds you of Jim Carrey. It must be noted that the group shoes no visible signs or mourning when their friends die gory deaths. Director Wadlow sure has a democratic and politically correct team of actors: besides several obligatory Caucasians, there is a darkish girl in the core group. Then we have an old woman who hands them a scripture written in Spanish, there is a father-son duo that are Chinese, the son being homosexual, and the investigating Police Detective is black. Offering no closure or denouement, Truth or Dare leaves the door open for a sequel.                

Lucy Hale as Olivia Barron (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Fear Island, The Unicorn) is appealing as a girl who is trying to take control of an impossible situation. Tyler Posey (White Frog, Scary Movie 5, Yoga Hosers) as Lucas Moreno is rightfully confused, having a girl friend and eyeing someone else. Violett Beane (Slash, Flay) as Markie Cameron is buxom and emotes well too. Hayden Szeto (The Edge of Seventeen) as Brad Chang has a good role and the audience’s sympathy, as does the slim and svelte Sophia Ali (Missionary, The Longshots, Everybody Wants Some!!) as Penelope.

Landon Liboiron (Daydream Nation, Girl in Progress, Burning Bodhias) as Carter acquits himself well. Nolan Gerard Funk is Tyson Curran, the aspiring doctor who pays the price for standing up against the Entity. Aurora Perrineau as Giselle Hammond, at her wits’ end after being sucked into the game, comes across as defined. Tom Choi as Officer Han Chang, Brad’s father, has a small but sympathetic role. Gary Anthony Williams as the voice of Calax, the demonic entity controlling the game, sounds like any of those double base, grainy voices that speak for the ungodly.

It had the potential and a young, fresh cast to work with, yet, in the end, Truth or Dare does not terrorise enough. There are no, “Oh my God!” moments. Rather, it is sympathy that is tapped, as exemplified by, “Poor thing.” Some nudity and sexual content, not to mention profanity, has been excised, pixillated or muted in the Indian release version.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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