Truth Or Dare

US (2013) Dir. Jessica Cameron

They say the truth hurts but I don’t think it is supposed to hurt as much as it does in this indie gore flick. And if this claret soaked yarn is also meant to serve as a parable to warn people against the inherent vanity from achieving fame via YouTube videos, it most certainly does its job – provided you don’t pass out first.

A cult YouTube show by the Truth Or Daredevils makes headline news with their latest extreme take on the Truth Or Dare party game. Jennifer (Jessica Cameron), Ray (Shelby Stehlin), sister Courtney (Devanny Pinn), John (Jesse Wilson), Michelle (Heather Dorff), and Tony (Brandon Van Vliet), appear on a TV talk show where devoted fan Derik (Ryan Kiser) berates them for ignoring his e-mails and is eventually ejected from the studio.

Filming a new video in the basement of John’s new home, the game of Russian Roulette ends in tragedy when John shoots himself with a live bullet that was supposed to be blank. Derik then appears from the shadows, holding everyone else hostage at gunpoint and decides they play the game again, this time by his rules.

Truth Or Dare is a low budget indie film but outside of the opening act, it doesn’t show such is the professional quality of the filming and gruesome practical effects courtesy of Carrie Mercado. Jessica Cameron was a jobbing horror actress before writing the script with Jonathan Scott Higgins, which must have saved her a lot of time and money, and the film has won multiple genre awards on the indie film festival circuit.

It is easy to be overly critical and pull this film apart over the minutiae, but the story and gore is so damned effective at making us so uncomfortable that we forget about any shortcomings through being (en)grossed by the shocking imagery. Yet the gore is congruent to the plot even if the logic leading to it is a little lacking.

The Daredevils do fake stunts involving extreme games of Truth Or Dare, like in the opening video where Tony is supposedly shot dead, but the realism of these clips is what attracts the audience. Except Derik thinks they are real until Tony shows up at the TV interview alive and well, crushing the illusion for Derik.

With the group ignoring his messages and dedicated fandom Derik takes this personally and unbeknownst to the Daredevils, his fixation with them goes much deeper than buying their merchandise. So when he shows up at the house in the middle of nowhere this is the least of their worries, as Derik knows all of their most intimate and darkest secrets.

Of course they don’t know this but with John already dead, they have an idea if they accept a dare it will be pretty bad so they opt for truth – except Derik knows the real truth will punish the liars until they are honest, and some of the things they have been hiding are very – and conveniently – disturbing.

It might be argued that some of these revelations are morally worse than the violence meted out and there is a case of just desserts, depending on your tolerance towards certain peccadilloes but once Derik gets going with his stomach churning dares all bets are off. I won’t list the atrocities on display here but there is a very good reason why they handed out sick bags to patrons at Fright Fest!

But couldn’t they have just refused to perform these disgusting acts? Well, yes but it incurs more punishment; similarly, choosing truth risks turning them against their friends so either way, a bad ending waits. And Derik is handy with a gun and half the group are injured so catching him off guard or overpowering him is not an option.

Aside from bringing up our meals from the last six weeks in one go, does this film offer a message or purpose? That is open to interpretation; the best I can suggest is maybe treat your fans with respect as they put you where you are and can bring you down again? Or perhaps it is be honest with the ones closest to you? Or don’t try to be famous via YouTube…

Subtlety isn’t a strong point of the script but this film is unashamedly aimed at an audience only interested in the gross out experience which Cameron delivers in blood soaked spades. The already praised effects play an integral part in the viscera of the gore – and let’s face it this is where the budget went and it was money well spent.

The cast of unknowns impress with their commitment to their roles and the natural readings of their shock and distress as things get nastier. Resembling Charles Manson, Ryan Kiser stands out, astoundingly convincing as the febrile lunatic fan Derik, but – and I hate to say this (genuinely, as we follow each other on Twitter) – Jessica Cameron was the least effective of the cast for me, until the last scene.

But this might be because she was preoccupied with her other role as the director (apparently not by choice as others would only take the job per a toning down of the script) and even though this is her debut, this is where she belongs. Cameron proves she is every bit as inventive and daring as any experienced director, knowing intuitively what the audience needs to see and what can be left implicit and how to create terror and tension.  

Naturally, we wonder (dread?) what sort of mind can conceive the horrific, disagreeable, grotesque, egregiously depraved, vulgar torture porn nightmare depicted in this film and pass it off as entertainment. The “truth” is a bubbly blonde Canadian actress who likes horror films, but “dare,” we ask her why?

A triumph for Jessica Cameron and for indie horror, Truth Or Dare is currently available on Amazon Prime – if you have the stomach for it.