Movie Review - Truth or Dare
This past weekend, I attended the Shockfest Fiilm Festival of Hollywood, a celebration of all things horror, that included: music videos, feature films, short films, web series, and even some live performances. It was an incredible two days for any horror fan, boasting no less than seven feature films and over twenty-five short films. And the festival reminded me that indie-horror films can pack just as much of a punch as any blockbuster, sometimes more. Because the film makers behind these movies are able to take risks that large studios are unwilling to, and often working on a low budget forces them to get creative, yielding the best results. And Jessica Cameron's directorial debut, Truth or Dare, is a shining example of just how good indie-horror can get.
The basic story is simple. Six college kids find internet stardom when they make "Truth or Dare" videos with a violent twist. But when it comes to light that the videos are staged, one particularly obsessed fan becomes extremely disillusioned, and decides to stage his own game. And this time, they're forced to play by his rules.
To say anything more about the story would be a disservice, because this is one of those rare films that keeps you guessing until the very last frame. But I will say that the content is nothing short of extreme, and might just leave you gasping for air. In fact one scene in particular was so intensely graphic and violent, that at it's conclusion, I had to step out of the theater and splash a little cold water on my face. (If you've read my reviews before you know I have a pretty strong stomach for this kind of thing, so I mean that as a high compliment.) We're talking about a film where getting stabbed is the most pleasant thing that happens to the characters.
The story is carried by strong performances from the entire cast. Jesse Wilson (The League of Ordinary Gamers) portrays the group's cock-sure leader, John, with all the frat boy charm you could ask for. The multitalented Devanny Pinn (The Black Dahlia Haunting) and Shelby Stehlin (Dark Mountain) are compelling as brother and sister, Ray and Courtney. The versatile Ms. Cameron shines (as always) as Jennifer. Heather Dorff (Poetic) deftly brings the girl with a dark secret, Michelle, to life, while Brandon Van Vliet ably handles the role of the groups resident comedian, Tony. But the stand-out performance of the film comes from Ryan Kiser, as the groups Number One fan, Derik B. Smith. His chilling depiction of a man whose obsession turns to mania is gripping. He truly captures the mind of a man unhinged.
Perhaps the scariest thing about the film, is that it seems entirely possible that this could happen in an age where our personal lives are constantly put on display for the whole world to see. With our societies' obsession with invading celebrities privacy and our dependence on social media, we open ourselves up to so many people that are essentially strangers. And often times, these strangers have more sinister motives than we would care to think about.
The riveting story was written by Jessica Cameron and Jonathan Scott Higgins, who manage to pack as many bombshells as possible into this taut thriller, all based around a simple childhood game. Now it might seem that the easy way out would be to continually pick 'Truth'. But when the characters deepest and darkest secrets begin to come to light, it begins to seem like choosing 'Dare' might be less painful. The series of 'Truth' and 'Dare' segments become increasingly violent and cruel, and soon the group begins to descend into the madness that their captor has envisioned for them. It is truly barbaric.
Jessica Cameron excels in her debut behind the camera, making this low budget indie look polished. Her love for the genre is infectious, and can be seen both onscreen and off. That seems to be why she brings out the best in the people that she works with, from the cast to the crew - many of whom were working for little or no money. I was not surprised at all when she took home Best Director at the Shockfest Film Festival. It is an honor that was well deserved.
All in all, this is one of the finest indie-films made in the last couple of years. A ruthless and sadistic experiment in torture that is not for the faint of heart. I highly recommend this film for fans of the genre.