“Kick Ass 2” director Jeff Wadlow and television writer Michael Reisz must have watched all six “Final Destination” movies, “Ouija,” and “It Follows” before they made “Truth or Dare,” (* OUT OF ****), a glossy, young adult, supernatural thriller driven by demonic possession. Suffice to say, Michael Reisz has appropriated the centuries old party game True or Dare, which was designed to embarrass and amuse, but he has added a supernatural entity. Although they take the game beyond embarrassing and amusing, Wadlow and Reisz populate it with pedestrian characters. An attractively youthful cast, that could moonlight as fashion models and have done most of their thesping on TV, pose as vacuous victims. Male and female expendables throughout, they are differentiated by their wardrobe and gender. When they agree to tell the truth or take a dare, they’ve no choice. They must follow through or risk the likelihood of death. The “Truth or Dare” supernatural entity is a quirky demon that the filmmakers heighten the ‘life or death’ stakes of the game. Mind you, invisible demons are the first sign of a low-budget horror chiller. The producers don’t have to pay an actor or actress. The special effects crew perform all the demon’s fanciful feats. This demon multi-tasks, too. The filmmakers let it circulate will-of-the-wisp style from one character to another, temporarily possessing everyone. During this moment of possession, whatever character that it occupies utters a “Truth or Dare” demand. Along with this challenge, the demon warps their faces into the equivalent of an impudent Jack Nicholson smile. Indeed, this sinister smile serves the same purpose as Jason’s mask in the “Friday the 13th” movies and Michael Myers’ mask for “Halloween” franchise. Most memorable horror movie villains wear some sort of mask. Not only have Wadlow and Reisz carefully contrived this scary saga for sequels galore, but they’ve also provided it with a visual trademark anybody can imitate. Unfortunately, the violence is largely kinetic. Virtually no blood erupts from bodies either slain or mutilated. Basically, unlike R-rated movies, PG-13 movies like “Truth or Dare” must restrain themselves when mixing blood with violence.
“Truth or Dare” unfolds as Ms. Goody Two-Shoes college student Olivia Barron (Lucy Hale of “Scream 4”) plans to spend her Spring Break to building houses for Habitat for Humanity. Olivia’s best friend Markie Cameron (Violett Beane of “Slash”) has other ideas. She persuades Olivia to postpone her Habitat for Humanity plans. Reluctantly, Olivia accompanies Markie, her boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey of “Scary Movie 5”), and a group of their mutual friends, Penelope Amari (Sophia Ali of “Missionary Man”), her boyfriend Tyson Curran (Nolan Gerard Funk of “Riddick”), and their gay Asian pal, Brad Chang (Hayden Szeto of “Fortune Cookie”), on a holiday to sunny Mexico. Another member of their group that nobody particularly likes, Ronnie (Sam Lerner of “Project Almanac”) tags along without permission. When they aren’t cavorting on the beach and soaking up sunshine, they’re getting loaded on all the alcohol they can guzzle. Basically, Violett convinced Olivia to join them since this constitutes their last chance as seniors to enjoy this time-honored escape from academia.
While they are having the time of their lives, Olivia meets an enigmatic stranger, Carter (Landon Liboiron of “Forsaken”), at a club who makes a favorable impression on her. He convinces Olivia, Violett, and their chums to party at a forsaken Catholic mission remotely situated in the mountains. These goof-offs ignore the fence that they must climb through around the mission with its warning signs in Mexican about prohibited entry. Carter convinces them to play a game of Truth or Dare while they are boozing it up. What Olivia and her friends don’t know is that a wicked spirit named Calax haunts the premises. Earlier, during a drunken binge with his own clique of cursed companions, Carter smashed the bottle confining Calax’s spirit and released it. Of course, nothing happens to anybody that evening. Things take a bizarre twist after Olivia and company return to college. Somehow, the Truth or Dare game has followed them. Moreover, the game seems to be playing them rather than they it.
Unlike the night in Mexico when they asked each other provocative questions, Calax possesses each of them in turn as well as strangers and then challenges them to either take a dare or speak the truth. Olivia gets into trouble first when she blurts out in a room crowded with students at the library that Violett has been cheating on Lucas. Later, obnoxious Ronnie accepts a dare to expose himself while standing on a pool hall. When he refuses, Calax possesses him. Ronnie stumbles, getting off the pool table, and breaks his neck with a loud snap. Olivia and the others learn about Ronnie’s tragic incident when a video appears on their cell phones. Each experience an encounter with Calax as well as a truth or dare question. Eventually, Olivia learns Carter introduced them to this demonically fueled game because it was the only way he could keep the spirit from meddling with his life. Those who ignore the rules end up dying until the surviving few track down not only a mute nun who once lived at the mission but also Carter. Ultimately, the only way Olivia and her surviving friends can counteract the curse is to coerce Carter into uttering a Spanish incantation seven times, slice out his own tongue, and cork it up in a clay bottle!
Clocking in at 100 minutes, “Truth or Dare” should have dared to whittle its convoluted melodramatics down to 88 minutes. The demonic smile that everyone adopts during the game grows tiresome and borders on parody. This horror film boasts a minimal number of jump scare scenes. Meantime, the violence is largely antiseptic. Wadlow gives these lame shenanigans a polished look, but the film generates only minor suspense. Aside from “The Purge” lenser Jacques Jouffret’s atmospheric cinematography, “Truth or Dare” induces yawns more than yells.