Internet stardom goes horribly awry in “Truth or Dare”

Naturally, with a film titled “Truth or Dare” there comes the challenge: I DARE you to watch it. That should serve as ample warning that this little film is not for those who tend to react squeamishly to onscreen violence.

There’s horror, and there’s HORROR. “Truth or Dare” is HORROR.

These are exciting times in the world of scary movies in that women are making their mark in the genre as writers, producers and directors of horror films. Among them is Jessica Cameron, who co-wrote, with Jonathan Scott Higgins, and directed “Truth or Dare” and took it on a successful worldwide tour of festivals in which the movie garnered 19 awards. Among the prizes were the Best Horror Feature at the Arizona Underground Film Festival, Best Feature at the Calgary Horror Con, the Jury Award at the Macabre Faire Film Festival, and three awards at the Shockfest Film Festival: Best Actor to Ryan Kiser and Best Director and Best Actress to Cameron.

Following this kudos-laden global exposure, the film took awhile to get distribution into other platforms (it was made in 2013). Offers to release it in DVD would come with the compromise of cutting its more brutal scenes. But Cameron held firm and finally it has been released on DVD in its raw, uncut form.

For those who waited anxiously for this, the patience has paid off. In a wonderfully gruesome way.

It is an understatement to call “Truth or Dare” a cautionary tale, presenting a terrifying story of the dark, vicious underbelly of fame delivered at the hands of social media. Those who covet accelerated online traffic may have to deal with not only the relatively sane fans, but the downright demented ones as well.

Six college students — three couples actually — have hit the jackpot with their “Truth or Dare” video streams that offer a violent twist. They especially draw attention when one of them, Tony (Brandon Van Vliet) may have been fatally shot by fellow Truth or Daredevil Jennifer (Cameron). The group subsequently appears on a talk show and brings out Tony to show he really was not killed.

In the audience at the talk show is a self-professed No. 1 fan of the “Truth or Dare” videos, Derik (Kiser, who also stars as Charles Manson in “House of Manson”). When he makes a scene in trying to be recruited into the group, he is banished from the building.

Later, the group reconvenes at a secluded home purchased by John (Jesse Wilson), who has set up a studio in which to video the next episodes of their show. Aside from John, Jennifer and Tony, the group includes John’s girlfriend Courtney (Devanny Pinn, so chilling  as Susan Atkins in “House of Manson”), Tony’s girlfriend Michelle (Heather Dorff) and Jennifer’s boyfriend Ray (Shelby Stehlin).

Just as the Truth or Daredevils begin to work on their next show, who should crash in on them but their No. 1 fan, Derik. Armed and certainly dangerous, Derik gets the upper hand and demands that they continue their “Truth or Dare” game, but under his rules.

With one member of the group already “out of the game” (in other words, no longer breathing), the group has no choice but to concede to Derik’s decrees.

Unfortunately, in Derik’s opinion, the show lacks structure and realism and he believes this cheats the fans.So he is here to fix things.

In the first round of the game, the five remaining Truth or Daredevils opt for truth rather than dares. But this turns ugly.

As in other horror movies in which viewers have to dispense with disbelief and accept that killers like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger never die despite all the weapons and artillery used on them, “Truth or Dare” at this point forces the viewer to believe that Derik has managed to dig up deep secrets the Truth or Daredevils have been keeping from each other (even their lovers). But this is a risk that is brought up —  suggesting the real dangers of too much personal information being accessible to people who are savvy enough to find and exploit it.

Of course, some of these secrets revealed are pretty bad and it leads to, well, discord among the group members. So naturally in the ensuing rounds they opt for dares rather than truths.

And that’s when it gets really brutal.

You can develop a grudging admiration for Derik’s madness. This guy is focused on his mission. As he says, “Truth or Dare” “belongs to the fans” and it is the obligation of the Truth or Daredevils to give them a bloody good show. Derik’s investment in the show — “You’re not just videos,” he declares, “you’re an inspiration, at least to me” — along with his sick creativity help achieve this goal. Each round gets more brutal. And even if these people survive the dares they are irreparably damaged.

Of the group, Jennifer and Michelle are the gutsiest. Indeed, when Jennifer completes a dare without batting an eye, it seems she might be momentarily getting into the gory spirit of the proceedings. Later Jennifer and Michelle are the only ones to actually attempt to physically derail Derik’s efforts.

Kiser’s Derik is a bundle of nervous, misguided and psychotic energy. He is a tragic figure, wrapping his life around something so trivial as people videotaping fake violence to garner hits on the internet.

The rest of the cast is put through such cringe-worthy punishment, and for all that is revealed about them, the fact that they do not deserve the horror they endure makes “Truth or Dare” an effective and terrifying film. Cameron did a superb job of recruiting dedicated people, beyond the cast, who helped her create this film on a small budget. Credit goes out to Carrie Mercado, the makeup artist and special effects makeup artist, as well as the visual effects team of Aaron M. Lane and Adam Lima. Cameron, outspoken in her disdain for CGI effects, brought on board people who share her enthusiasm for practical special effects.

“Truth or Dare” comes with a warning. This is uncompromising violence and not for the casual horror fans who enjoy films that simply make them jump or feel uneasy. This movie does flat out dare you to watch, and even the most hardcore fans of this genre will find themselves of accelerated heart rates, possibly sweating and shaking, at the conclusion of the film. But then dare yourself NOT to watch it again. You might lose that dare.


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