It’s laudable to convert harmless childhood games into horror premises, but Truth or Dare does it with such rote blandness that the movie is actually less suspenseful than a real game of truth or dare. Directed by Jeff Wadlow (Cry_Wolf, Kick-Ass 2) from a screenplay credited to him and three other people, the film is meant to be a creepy Twilight Zone sort of thing rather than outright “scary”; then, for some reason, it’s also a soapy melodrama with a love triangle. Sure, why not?
Our brunette “final girl” is Olivia (Lucy Hale), a do-gooder California college student who’s persuaded to skip her Habitat for Humanity plans and spend Spring Break in Mexico with her best friend Markie (Violett Beane); Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey), with whom Olivia clearly has chemistry; another couple, Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) and Penelope (Sophia Taylor Ali); and optional gay friend Brad (Hayden Szeto). An obnoxious seventh classmate, Ronnie (Sam Lerner), adds himself to their group at the resort in Rosarito so that someone can be first to die without it being someone we like.
A fellow Spring Breaker, Carter (Landon Liboiron), flirting with Olivia, leads her and the gang to an old mission late one night, where they play truth or dare and learn they are now cursed. “Tell the truth or you die. Do the dare or you die. Refuse to play and you die.” Sure enough, when they get back to campus, Olivia starts seeing “TRUTH OR DARE” written in places where it really isn’t, followed by demonic voices posing the same question. The Truth or Dare spirit can possess anyone, turning them into its unwilling mouthpiece. When a person is so possessed, their mouth and eyebrows turn into the Joker (or Christian Slater, if you prefer), an eerie look that is consistently chilling no matter how many times we see it (roughly 10,000).
The rules stated by Carter prove true. If you choose “dare” and chicken out, the Truth or Dare spirit possesses you and makes you kill yourself. Same with choosing “truth” and then not being fully honest. There’s a lot of suicide in this movie, even in one character’s backstory (her dad took his own life). Moreover, the Truth or Dare demon is really good at asking piercing questions, so the truths being revealed are almost as rattling to Olivia and her friends as the deaths are.
You will never guess how the curse is broken unless you have seen a teen horror movie before. Would you believe our remaining heroes must track down the one person (usually elderly) who knows the lore behind it all and follow his or her instructions? What are the odds?
The movie half-heartedly brings up the subject of ethics and truth-telling, painting Olivia as a moral figure who always does the right thing. But the more the story addresses its character-based subplots — the Olivia/Markie/Lucas triangle, Brad coming out to his father, etc. — the more ludicrous and hysterical it becomes, and the more we wish it’d get back finding creative ways for people to die. It’s like Final Destination without the ingenuity, mixed with Riverdale without the sex.