Sunday, 24 August 2014

Frightfest London 2014: Truth or Dare

Dir: Jessica Cameron
Truth or Dare has a strong, simple concept: a group of friends who call themselves the Truth or Dare Devils  and have become popular through uploading dare videos to youtube are kidnapped by Derik (Ryan Kiser), their biggest fan and forced into a deadly version of the eponymous game, all of which is being filmed and uploaded to their channel.

Jessica Cameron's feature directorial début does work on a level of commentary; it has things to say about obsessive fandom and the way fans increasingly are able to feel like they know their idols, thanks to social media. Happily, Truth or Dare is no po-faced examination of these issues, nor is it a moral panic film about the perceived dangers of the net, rather Cameron and co-writer Jonathan Scott Higgins use their theme as a hook on which to hang a fun, funny and increasingly extreme 80 minutes of horror.

Their are two great advantages to basing the entirety of a film around a game of Truth or Dare: it imposes a structure, with the characters each taking their turns, and the dramatic stakes are built in, as either option is likely to lead to something unpleasant, be it a secret being revealed or dare that is difficult to stomach or achieve.  Cameron takes full advantage of both of these virtues, building the horror and the stakes turn by turn as the games becomes ever more extreme.  This also allows the film to deal in different kinds of horror; from the shock of the opening to the psychological horror of early revelations to the visceral, painful, gore of the last 15 minutes.

The biggest directorial choice here is that of the shooting style and, thankfully, Cameron opts not to shoot the whole film as found footage (though she does make use of the camcorder that the group's captor is using during the game).  The great virtue of this choice is that it means that we can focus on the story, rather than on the mechanics of the film's style.  The screenplay isn't always completely plausible, especially the amount of dark secrets in this one room and the idea that the videos being uploaded by Derik are getting 400,000 hits within about 20 minutes.  That said, the screenplay builds effectively and delivers a lot of nice shock moments, particularly a cool one for Cameron herself, responding nonchalantly and unexpectedly to an extreme dare.

The performances are a mixed bag, but there are some real highlights.  Ryan Kiser's twitchy mania lends an unpredictability to Derik that sets the film effectively on edge right from his first appearance and Jessica Cameron and Heather Dorff are increasingly effective as the film ratchets up the punishment being doled out and reveals more and more about their characters.  The other performances have their moments, but don't, overall, match up to the three leads, it's here that you can sense a little time and budget pressure on the film.

Truth or Dare isn't the most visually interesting of films, but that's more down to the single setting and the turn based structure, which, effective as it can be from a story point of view, also lays down a visual template for the film that doesn't always work to its advantage.  However, the film is never dull and, when it comes to what horror fans are likely to care most about; the gore effects, acquits itself very well.  There are, again, a couple of glimpses of possible time pressure in the visuals, especially in one glaring (if brief) continuity error, which really should have resulted in another take.

Overall, Truth or Dare isn't a masterpiece. Its origins as a project conceived and made by a group of friends are clear in the sometimes scrappy feel of the project, but Jessica Cameron and crew largely turn this to their advantage.  The somewhat frenzied atmosphere after the group are kidnapped papers over some of the film's rougher edges, and throws us right in with the characters.  It's a fun, engaging, nasty little film and promises interesting things to come from this team.

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