Sunday 8 September 2013

Truth or Dare (UK 2012: Dir Robert Heath)

Watching two of the four (!) executive producers in an extra on the DVD release of Truth or Dare talking about wanting to put money into a 'teen horror' as the best way to get a return on their investment, one gets a stark reminder that movie making is a 'for profit' enterprise whatever the artistic aims espoused by a film's director. It also doesn't bode well for the film itself. That the resultant product turns out to be much much better than maybe it has a right to be is an added bonus and a pleasant surprise, for Truth or Dare rises above its clichéd premise to become something very watchable.

The plot is simple and a variation on a now familiar theme. A group of rather unpleasant twentysomethings are invited to a party by Felix, a friend of theirs who we see being summarily bullied by the group in a prologue set some months earlier. The friends turn up, there's no party and no Felix. But there is Felix's older brother Justin, and before they can say 'set up' they're all tied to chairs in a remote shack with Justin meting out revenge for the misery heaped on his younger sibling, which apparently drove him to suicide - hence no Felix at the party.

Now I grant you that this doesn't sound very interesting, but hang on, there's something different here.

First, everyone can act, not just the leads. The film manages a rather clever trick of getting you to care for a group of people that we've seen capable of nasty bullying, and for that to work you need good performances. David Oakes (an actor whose previous work has included some high calibre TV appearances) as Justin is particularly strong, getting the balance between psychosis and shrewd, calculating meanness just right. Also Jennie Jacques as feisty complex Eleanor, leader of the twentysomethings in peril, turns in a really clever performance that confounds expectations.

Secondly, it's really well made. Impressively shot and tightly edited, Truth or Dare becomes increasingly claustrophobic and tense, although there's not that much going on and most of the action takes place in one small room. Third, the script isn't a string of tired clichés. OK it's not Pinter but it doesn't draw attention to itself thus ruining the atmosphere, and doesn't fall apart in the final third which is an increasing rarity these days.

Truth or Dare is definitely recommended. Robert Heath isn't a prolific film maker, but his previous full length output - the race and police drama Sus from 2010, and 2005's heist comedy Out on a Limb - are equally strong movies and are well worth catching.

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