OCTOBER 8, 2012
I've lost count (well, that's not true, I never actually started counting in the first place) of how many times a producer or director has claimed that his horror movie is not a horror but "psychological thriller" or some such nonsense, despite the fact that it's basically just a quick way to get your bread and butter to think you're an asshole. But I'm pretty sure Truth Or Die (formerly Truth Or Dare) is the first time where the producer kept referring to his movie as horror when it indeed WAS more of a thriller.
A few somewhat nasty deaths aside, this is a straight up thriller version of a Terror Train or Slaughter High type movie where an awkward guy gets ridiculed, bad things happen, and now some revenge is in order. But it's not the poor nerd doing the revenging - it's his older brother, because we learn that the young man hung himself after one of the group threatened to expose what really happened that night, because the truth (which we learn near the end of the film) would embarrass him. So the brother assembles the group of friends, ties them to chairs (sigh), and makes them play a deadly game of truth or dare in order to find out who sent his brother the menacing postcard that led him to put a rope around his neck.
But that's it. There's no stalking or chase scenes, the killer is up front with both his identity and his intentions, and there isn't even a big body count (roughly 5, at least two off-screen). So as a "horror film", it lacks the basic elements of how a film can be scary, and that's BEFORE you take into consideration that all of our characters are assholes that you won't be rooting for anyway. So it's like Saw II except Amanda wouldn't be pretending to be a victim, there's no B story about Donnie Wahlberg, and no traps. Sound exciting?
That said, it's not a bad movie, just somewhat uninvolving. The "truth or dare" motif actually works pretty good, allowing for a nice blend of tense "truth" scenes where people inadvertently blurt out things they were trying to hide from their friends/lovers, and the "dare" scenes provide the violence, including a nasty bit where a tube is inserted into the victim's mouth with a "left or right" choice. One valve will just pour water into their mouths. The other: acid. SPOILER: we see both scenarios play out. And just when the game would get tired, we're given a decent-ish twist after a few people get loose, so the movie picks up some momentum. At times it reminded me of Among Friends, which also involved a group of friends tied to chairs and being forced to reveal secret pasts, but that one never escalated - once they're seated, the entire movie is in that dining room. So since I was experiencing deja vu for a while here, it was a nice little bonus to see them mix it up in the last 20-25 minutes.
However, I was a bit put off by the film's conclusion, and thus I'll have to spoil a couple details (I'll leave the names out). The full details of this "embarrassment" are revealed, and we learn that it involved a drunken gay encounter between the hanged kid and one of the group's male members. The script makes efforts to explain why this would be so damaging (it's a very "proud" family with an overbearing father and a militant brother), but it's still a touch homophobic, even if not intentional, as the movie thus revolves around people being murdered because someone threatened to expose someone's bisexuality. Add to that the fact that one of the most heinous people in the movie is the one to survive and you have an ending that can't possibly satisfy anyone in the crowd (well, besides assholes).
If nothing else, it's a great looking film; I assume the budget wasn't high but it looks better than some "big budget" movies I've seen lately (Haywire comes to mind), and even though it's mostly interior shots director Robert Heath puts the 2.35:1 aspect ratio to good use, filling the frame with something worth looking at more often than not. Sometimes you see a scope movie where it can be cropped down without really losing anything but empty backgrounds, but that's not the case here. It also boasts a fine sound mix, and even though I didn't like any of their characters I found most of the actors to be a notch or two above average; Jennie Jacques in particular was quite good playing the most multi-layered of the group.
The only bonus feature is the aforementioned making of, which besides the "if you say so" stressing that it's a horror film is mostly populated with the actors, producers, and Heath explaining how great everyone else is - nothing essential. I'm surprised it didn't have the trailer; I was curious how they would have marketed the film given the limited action (Youtube gave me the answer - pretty accurately! The trailer's rather dull itself). Instead, we get three trailers for previous "Bloody Disgusting Selects" titles, including the great Exit Humanity, which is probably the best acquisition yet (of the ones I've seen anyway). It also lacks a subtitle option, which should be mandatory nowadays. Deaf folks like to watch movies too!
What say you?