“Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare,” despite the clumsy title, is a nimble little horror-chiller that makes the most of a simple premise: What if a children’s game became a matter of life and death?
It’s a delectable idea, especially when applied to teenagers whose greatest fear is any kind of embarrassment, no matter how minor. “Truth or Dare” — we can drop the name of the horror studio that made the movie — gets a great deal of mileage out of the crushes, secrets and misdeeds of its characters, even as they search for clues as to why and how a mere game is killing them one by one. Demons don’t possess only people, says the obligatory grizzled old woman who explains everything. Sometimes, they possess ideas.
Written by Michael Reisz and director Jeff Wadlow (with two others), “Truth or Dare” introduces us to a pack of college kids whose faults and foibles prove fatal. Studious do-gooder Olivia (Lucy Hale) is in love with Lucas (Tyler Posey), who happens to be dating her best friend, Markie, an incorrigible philanderer played by a sympathetic Violett Beane. Cocky Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk) is studying for medical school while peddling fake prescriptions; his girlfriend, Penelope (Sophia Ali), seems to live with a drink in her hand. Hayden Szeto, a young actor who charmed his way through 2016’s “The Edge of Seventeen,” plays Brad, an amiable kid who hasn’t told his dad he’s gay. Last but not least is Ronnie (an enjoyable Sam Lerner), a pesky and prurient hanger-on.
The fun starts when the gang plays truth or dare (with beers, of course) in an old Mexican church over spring break. Back at school, though, the game continues: Without warning, strangers and sometimes friends break into an impossibly evil grin and utter a new challenge. (The facial distortion is a simple but creepy effect that, as Olivia correctly notes, “looks like a messed-up Facebook filter.”) The rules turn out to be simple but deadly: Tell a lie, fail to complete your dare or refuse to play — and you die.
In the end, Olivia must trick the demon who controls the game, and although her solution has an amusing irony she overlooks an obvious logical loophole. That’s all right. By then the movie has delivered on its promises, and we’ve had plenty of fun playing.