The predominately genre-focused production company which producer Jason Blum built has become something of a critical and financial juggernaut since its inception, beginning with 2009's massive sleeper hit "Paranormal Activity
." Blumhouse's creative model has thus far had few misses, thriftily keeping budgets low even as its films hold appealing high concepts and/or timely provocative themes that seemingly key into the cultural zeitgeist. Coming off a milestone 2017 which saw the releases of three box-office smashesJordan Peele's Oscar-winning "Get Out
," M. Night Shyamalan's exceedingly clever "Split," and Christopher Landon's insanely fun "Groundhog Day"-esque horror-comedy "Happy Death Day
"Blumhouse unfortunately has chosen the wrong release to shoehorn its brand name into the title. A pedestrian children's-game variation on 2000's "Final Destination
" and 2002's "The Ring
," "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" exhibits little of the inspiration one has come to expect from the company. Full of cheap jump scares and threadbare characterizations, the results prove hackneyed and, by the crummy ending, distastefully pessimistic.
Olivia Barron (Lucy Hale) intends to spend her final college spring break volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, but best friend Markie (Violett Beane) has other ideas. Before Olivia knows it, she is in Mexico partying with her pals and, later, cheerfully agreeing to a game of Truth or Dare by a cute guy, Carter (Landon Liboiron), she meets at the bar. This is no silly, normal Truth or Dare, however, as Carter ominously lets them know before stealing into the night. Once Olivia and her friends accept the offer to play, they inadvertently become trapped in a deadly supernatural version of the game that follows them home. Fail to follow through on telling the truth or completing the dare, and they're dead.
"Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" is the kind of film where characters are constantly being startled from behind by another person who has crept up on them unannounced as a loud jolt is heard on the soundtrack. It's one of the oldest tricks in the horror playbook, made all the more ham-fisted when the attempted throwaway frights are as ineffectual as these and there's nothing else to grab onto surrounding them. Writer-director Jeff Wadlow (2013's "Kick-Ass 2
") and co-writers Michael Reisz and Jillian Jacobs & Chris Roach (2014's "Non-Stop
") have fashioned a promising if predictable plot hook, but their disinterest in creating protagonists who are more than worm fodder or even genuinely worth caring about becomes overwhelming. That they use Brad's (Hayden Szeto) forced coming-out to his controlling dad, police officer Han Chang (Tom Choi), as one of the game's "truth" rounds isn't offensive by itself, but it fast becomes so when the picture abruptly cuts to the next scene, leaving this formative moment frustratingly off-screen. If Wadlow did not have the courage or respect for his audience to follow through on this crucial subplot, he should have excised it completely; by silencing Brad's truth, the film instantly feels behind the times at best and homophobic at worst.
Alas, one of the movie's ongoing issues is how the emotional reality of the characters' situations takes a backseat to the rising body count, portrayed in sterilized death scenes where the PG-13 rating is held onto for dear life. There is little time to mourn their friends when they fall, and one key act of sacrifice seems to go right over Olivia's head. When one character's dare involves sleeping with her friend's significant other, nowhere is there a clause that stipulates they must take to the sheets while passionately tearing their clothes off, but this is exactly what they do. A major story thread involving Olivia's fear that she will be forced to tell Markie a deep, dark, possibly unforgivable secret is less surprising than inevitable. The truth, as they say, can hurt, and the more one learns about Olivia, the less complicated and sympathetic she becomes. Lucy Hale (2011's "Scream 4
") does what she can with this problematic lead role, but her performance, like that of her co-stars, is scarcely given the chance to rise above functional.
"Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" culminates in a last-ditch effort to stop the game-hosting demon (his being physically manifested in everyday passersby, their faces morphing into malevolent, smiling, "Black Hole Sun"-inspired Snapchat filters). Some mild tension is finally built up during this third act, only to be thoroughly squandered with a reprehensible final scene that goes so wrong so quickly one cannot believe anyone thought it was a good idea. Without daring to give anything away, all boils down to a single moral decision, and the choice ultimately made is contemptible when the alternative would have paved the way for an altogether more thoughtful, purposeful denouement. The truth of "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" is that it's a lazily helmed, cheap-feeling trifle with no true scares and an off-putting cynicism coursing through its veins. The dare is to sit through all 100 minutes and not walk away feeling like you've totally wasted your time.