The very first thing that alleged best friends Olivia (Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale) and Markie (Violett Beane) do in the moronic horror movie Truth or Dare is attempt to sabotage each other’s plans for their final spring break of college. Self-righteously wholesome Olivia has planned a trip to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, which she brags about on her YouTube channel, and which prevents her from joining her friends for their last hurrah. But Markie cancels Olivia’s trip behind her back, lying to the organizer about Olivia being ill, thus forcing Olivia to join the group for their vacation to Mexico. Clearly these two have a solid foundation of love and trust.
There’s something to be said for a horror movie in which the chief entertainment value is watching terrible people get what’s coming to them, but Truth or Dare seems to have very little (if any) self-awareness about the irritating narcissism of its characters, nor much of a sense of humor about their grim fates. It mostly just goes through the basic horror-movie motions, throwing a bunch of pretty young people into supernatural danger and picking them off one by one.
That supernatural danger comes courtesy of, yes, a cursed game of Truth or Dare, which Olivia, Markie and their five friends pick up from a sketchy guy in Mexico. He passes the curse on to them, admonishing them that they must tell the truth or complete the dare that the game determines for them, or they’ll end up dead. It’s a weak riff on the Final Destination formula, with the early victims dying in elaborately staged pseudo-accidents. There’s a certain perverse enjoyment in seeing how the characters will get dispatched in the Final Destination movies, but director and co-writer Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) doesn’t pour much creativity into the death scenes here, and the PG-13 rating means that they’re almost all curiously bloodless.
It’s also hard to take the menace of the Truth or Dare entity seriously when it mainly manifests via Joker-style grins and googly eyes on random people, which are far more laughable than scary. Horror movies can be great at turning innocuous childhood activities into sources of terror, but the truths and dares in Truth or Dare don’t have any kind of creepy resonance; they’re just blunt instruments to get the characters arguing or to cause them physical harm. The love triangle among Olivia, Markie and Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey) goes through a tedious series of iterations as the two best friends repeatedly fight and make up depending on the needs of the plot.
And there’s a surprising amount of that plot, even as the revelations about the source of the cursed game rely on a series of boilerplate horror-movie devices. The movie plods through the main characters’ discovery of the origins of their misery, leading to an ending that would be admirably nihilistic if it built in any way on the preceding narrative or character development (of which there is almost none). The acting in a movie like this is almost beside the point, just a stopover for young actors on their way to more substantial work, and Hale has just enough charisma that she might become more than a niche TV star eventually. If she does, though, it will be in spite of generic, poorly thought-out junk like Truth or Dare, not because of it.