Friday 2 October 2020

The Dare (Bulgaria/UK/USA 2019: Dir Giles Alderson)

Jay (Bart Edwards) is spending some rare home time away from his demanding job with his kids and his wife. But late that evening a mysterious figure breaks into their house and before he knows it Jay has woken up in a dirty room, handcuffed to the wall. Also with him are three others who have also been mysteriously abducted: partygoing Kat (Alexandra Evans), security guard and failed cop Adam (Richard Short) and a very badly beaten and cut guy with his mouth stitched together who the others call 'Paul' (Daniel Schutzman).

Jay, although warned against it by the others, tries his best to escape, but his reward comes in the shape of a hugely muscular man, wearing a mask that looks like stitched together human skin, who metes out cruel punishment on the others: Paul is cut further and Kat has a tube inserted into her mouth, followed by a live cockroach. Any attempt to kick up a fuss results in pain and torture for the four.

What is all this about? A side story tells of a young boy, Dominic (Mitchell Norman, excellent) who because of a prank played on him by a group of youths, ends up trapped in the house of a pig butcher, Credence (Richard Brake), who brings up the boy as his own and subjects him to the most ferocious mental and physical cruelty. Over the course of the movie we learn of the connection between Dominic and the four trapped adults.

The Dare is the feature directing debut of Brit Giles Alderson, better known for bit part acting in UK TV shows and films. The movie returns us to the murky world of 'tort*re porn,' a genre that, for me, outstayed its welcome some years ago. The film is relentless in its depiction of violence and threat: at one point an eyeball is cut and a worm placed into the slit; people are hosed down with blood and force fed raw meat; and the torturer of Jay and the others is a silent, remorseless sadist. It's terrifyingly well done (if you manage not to turn away at least once you'll be doing better than I), but like the genre it apes, it's all about the violence, and is perilously thin on characterisation; the movie also rarely strays outside of the confines of the farm, except for a few shots of creepy woodland, which adds to the claustrophobia.

Occasionally the relentless grimness is leavened by equally mordant humour, such as a brief attempt at escape by Jay which lands him right back where he started, and the odd line which raises a wry smile: refusing the offer of meat, Jay mentions that he's a vegan: "By vegan, you mean fucked" replies Adam.

The Dare isn't a bad film by any means. I struggled to see the point though, and more than anything it felt like an exercise in mood and a chance to shoehorn in some very nasty effects. I wouldn't write Alderson off though - the movie is competent and well put together - but some more involving subject matter next time wouldn't go amiss.

The Dare is on digital download from 5th October and on DVD from 12th October from Lionsgate UK.

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