The emergence of the culture in which anyone can gain celebrity by doing stupid things on YouTube is a primary influence on the story Scream Queen Jessica Cameron and co-writer Jonathan Scott Higgins have concocted for Cameron’s directorial debut.
The Truth or Daredevils are six youngsters, led by Cameron’s Jennifer, who have become an internet sensation by filming their variation of the drunken college game, only with a bizarre, violent twist. When their biggest fan Derik (Kiser) finds out they had faked their latest and most audacious video – the killing of hapless stooge Tony (Brandon Van Vliet) in a reverse Russian roulette routine – he decides to forcibly join the group and make the videos much more real. Gate crashing their next meeting, he makes them all reveal their hidden truths while making their fake dares genuinely deadly. They are made to perform extremely graphic and appalling stunts on each other, each more twisted than the last, while all the time Derik has an eye on the video hits.
Truth or Dare is an incredibly shocking film, for several reasons. There is an abundance of torture carried out toward the group by the crazed fan Derik, to the point in which the old expression ‘the lucky ones died first’ is actually correct. This in itself is neither surprising nor unexpected, but the level of abuse and humiliation levelled at the women was quite uncomfortable. It’s even more shocking when you remember the lovely Ms Cameron co-wrote and directed the film herself. Without wanting to give spoilers, there are some moments that one would not expect a female filmmaker to want to put her fellow gender through. However, by making the viewer experience this discomfort proves what a powerhouse director Cameron has the potential to be. It goes beyond mere exploitation – frankly, had a male director put some of the atrocities seen here on the screen they would be accused of being misogynistic.
The back stories of the crew that are revealed during the ‘truth’ part of the game are as shocking and disturbing as the tortuous ‘dares’; which is not to say they are unbelievable, but it does highlight the point that we can never really be sure how well we know our friends. It’s a credit to the entire cast that these revelations don’t come across as hackneyed, and actually make us begin to care for a group who essentially are unlikable college reprobates.
By tackling the growing phenomena of those so desperate for fame on the internet and reality TV programmes that they will literally draw blood and mutilate, the film looks at how we perceive our online personas, and how easy it could be for our own skeletons to be dragged from the closet. Are we really only defined by our hit counts?
Truth or Dare is a visceral, uncompromising and often gut-wrenching ride which may struggle to sit well with a mainstream audience, but horror fans – gorehounds particularly – should relish it, even if they may come away feeling more than a little disturbed. The claustrophobic central location – while obviously being an economical filming decision – gives a hopeless feeling of confinement. Herself a shameless self-promoter, Jessica Cameron has certainly made a strong and powerful mark for her directing debut. It will be interesting to see how she will top this in the future.
7 out of 10