FEARNET Movie Review: 'Would You Rather'


would you ratherIt never helps when a half-decent indie horror film is saddled with a title that's confusing, generic, or vague. There is an endless amount of solid (or at least decent) horror indies to be found on Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix -- so one could be forgiven for confusing "Truth or Dare" with "Truth or Die" or for mistaking "Would You Rather" with "Did You Know" or perhaps "Spin the Bottle." (How has there not been a horror film called "Spin the Bottle" yet??) Anyway, all of this is a hopefully amusing way to open a review with the opinion that, yes, the strange, savage, and appreciably dark Would You Rather is considerably more interesting than its (confusing/vague/generic) title may indicate.

The phrase "Would You Rather," as you probably know, is a reference to a game teenagers play. ("Would you rather kiss Janie or.... lick a dog's food bowl? OMG LOL!" and so on.) Only in this decidedly grown-up mash-up of torture, suspense, and dark comedy, there are no teenagers to be found. What starts out like a juicy 1950s horror film (say House on Haunted Hill) promptly borrows a few ingredients from the Agatha Christie formula, and then settles down to the meat of the matter: a group of cash-desperate dinner guests are forced by their maniacal host to commit horrible acts upon one another -- and the winner gets a HUGE pile of cash for their troubles.  Unfortunately that means that our heroine Iris (Brittany Snow), the former drunk (John Heard), the cruel beauty (Sasha Grey), the haunted veteran (Charlie Hofheimer), and a few others must withstand all sorts of physical and mental unpleasantness at the hands of a deliciously evil Jeffrey Combs.
On the surface, Would You Rather works as a perfectly serviceable (and admirably dark) suspense thriller about eight innocents trapped by a bloodthirsty billionaire, but after a few extended sequences in a blood-splattered dining room, it becomes clear that screenwriter Steffen Schlachtenhaufen is having a little fun poking holes in the now-familiar "torture movie" cliches. As nasty as Would You Rather gets, and boy does it, there's still a safety net of frank and clever wit. If the pacing of Would You Rather flags here and there thanks to a mostly static setting (and a potentially diverting subplot that goes nowhere at all), those are pretty typical potholes from an indie horror flick. On the other hand, Would You Rather is shot rather handsomely, and director David Guy Levy seems intent on adding some mood and restraint to a premise that could easily devolve into a mindless slash-fest.
Like the coolest moments of the Saw franchise, Would You Rather gives the astute horror viewer some interesting food for thought: is it easier to give pain or to receive it? And if it's OK to do a bad thing for a good reason, how far does that logic go? Can you do a horrible thing for a very good reason? Very little in Would You Rather is all that unique, but it is a novel little combination of a few horror sub-genres that generally don't hook up very often.
Plus it's always nice to see Jeffrey Combs sink his teeth into a rotten bastard of a villain role.

Read our partner reviews of 'Would You Rather'.