Blumhouse Productions, known for such low-budget independent horror offerings as the “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious,” and “Purge” franchises, had a high-profile 2017 as production company for Oscar contender Get Out and M. Night Shyamalan's return to form, “Split.” With their latest release, the Blumhouse name has literally been attached to the title, ostensibly as an assurance of quality for horror- and thrill-seekers. This new branding, however, is liable to backfire as “Blumhouse's Truth or Dare” is a lazy assemblage of stale horror film tropes cast with a handful of fresh-faced young stars from the CW, ABC Family, and MTV networks.
“Pretty Little Liars”' Lucy Hale plays good girl Olivia, whose noble plans to devote her last college spring break to Habitat for Humanity are secretly undermined by sexpot bestie Markie (“The Flash”'s Violet Beane) in order to coerce Olivia to join her more hedonistic plan to party in Mexico with recovering alcoholic schoolmate Penelope (“Faking It”'s Sophia Ali) and a cross-section of undergraduate bro-dom: Markie's nice-guy boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey of MTV's “Teen Wolf”), arrogant med-school candidate Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk), dufus horndog Ronnie (“Awkward”'s Sam Lerner), and Brad (Hayden Szeto), whose only distinguishing characteristic seems to be his homosexuality.
Opening credits roll over a split-screen Snapchat montage of every cliche springbreaker behavior imaginable, inclining viewers to rather dislike these characters even before they start acting like selfish jerks.
On their last night south of the border, they inexplicably agree to keep the party going after closing time by following rank stranger Carter (“DeGrassi: The Next Generation”'s Landon Liboiron), by cell-phone light, into the desert and up a mountain to a deserted Catholic mission. Yep, perfect spot for an after-party. Here, Carter passes out a few beers and suggests the titular game. The usual discomfort and sexual tension arise as each member is faced with revealing an embarrassing truth or performing a humiliating dare--that is, until Carter, choosing 'Truth,' reveals that they have all been ensnared in a cursed version of the game that will follow them home.
If that doesn't sound particularly terrifying, it's not.
Back at college, members of the party squad are visited, one by one, by a malign spirit demanding they play the game. Lie, fail to perform the dare, or refuse to play, and you die. The otherworldly challenges usually come from someone nearby whose face has assumed a not-all-that-terrifying Joker-type rictus grin. At other times, though, the demands come from brick walls, or just out of nowhere. Nothing much about the curse seems all that consistent.
At one point, a player chooses "Truth," clearly one of the game's nominal options, but the voice, like a sort of infernal game-show host, advises that the rules have changed: after any two consecutive truths, the next player must choose a dare. Perhaps the demonic game should have come with a demonic rule book.
Director Jeff Wadlow (“Kick-Ass 2”) and an entire roster of screenwriters seem unable to tap into what is truly frightening about being forced to reveal oneself to those closest to us. Instead, the plot turns on a number of soap opera-y admissions and betrayals, leaving viewers simply waiting for the next inevitable death. Yet even these are hampered by the film's PG-13 rating, resulting in neither a satisfying teen soap nor a sufficiently creative or grisly bloodbath.