Sadistic Would You Rather an Uninspired Kid Game
Iris (Brittany Snow) has returned home leaving college to take care of her ailing brother as he battles Leukemia. When bone marrow donors are hard to come by and with bills escalating, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) offers up a unique solution to the pair’s financial and medical difficulties, introducing her to local philanthropist Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs). He’s having a dinner party and wants Iris to attend, and while he won’t give any details as to what is going to take place he does reveal that one lucky guest will receive a sizable donation from the foundation he governs.
Brittany Snow in Would You Rather © IFC Films
That’s the setup for the horror-thriller Would You Rather, and you’d not be wrong if you guessed that Lambrick’s intentions are not exactly above board. The guests he’s assembled are a cultural and socio-economic grab bag, all of whom in need of help and none in the position to get it on their own. Their host’s solution? He’ll have them play an extremely adult, and shockingly lethal, version of a popular children’s game, the survivor having their prayers answered while the losers, well, for the losers, all they’re going to need is a shallow grave to lie down in.
Director David Guy Levy, producer of a number of notable independent efforts including Terri and August, steps behind the camera and unleashes a measured and confident “Twilight Zone” variation that’s admittedly well-acted by its notable cast (supporting players include John Heard, June Squibb, Enver Gjokaj, Eddie Steeples and Sasha Grey). It looks terrific thanks to Steve Calitri’s (Natural Selection) highly controlled cinematography and is edited by Josh Schaeffer (Brotherhood) with uncomforting precision, the movie rolling through each one of its 95 minutes with startling ease.
But the cruelty inherent in Steffen Schlachtenhaufen’s, a visual effects artist and former production assistant (he worked on Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) now putting pen to paper, script gets old pretty quickly, the concept never fleshed out or complex enough to hold interest for the film’s entire running time. Had this been a short, had it been an episode of Rod Serling’s aforementioned iconic series, maybe we’d have something to talk about. But as a movie? As a standalone narrative effort worthy of following start to finish? The whole thing is way too tiresome, everything building to a rather perfunctory and uninspired coda that’s nowhere near as startling or as shocking as I’m sure the filmmakers intend it to be.
It’s nice seeing Combs playing things so close to the vest as it feels like ages since someone decided to utilize one-time Re-Animator cult superstar with such quietly unnerving grace. Lambrick is a sadist, true, but he’s also a real guy, Combs going out of his way to insinuate that this bored, disinterested multi-millionaire could easily be a great man if he wanted to set his mind to it. Instead he’s content to play his yearly game, assembling those he feels could make it interesting while going through the rest of his life with a mundane malaise that’s inherently common.
Problem is, other than Iris none of the other dinner guests are fleshed out enough to make their place in the game anything more than superficial. Why they’re playing, who they were in the real world, why they decide to take electrocution themselves instead of stabbing their neighbor in the leg, none of it matters near as much as it should, making their choices, as well as their eventual deaths, borderline pointless. In the end, the movie becomes nothing more than a series of gruesome executions, and while I appreciate that Schlachtenhaufen and Levy never waiver as far as the direction of the plot is concerned their refusal to mix things up or add a few unexpected hiccups to the proceedings has the effect muting the emotional impact of everything taking place.
I actually don’t know if Would You Rather ever could have worked as a feature. It’s scenario is too slight and obvious, and the fact Schlachtenhaufen’s script plays it all out in such a straightforward manner makes that chance for any kind of bombshell relatively nil. While inherently shocking the movie simply does not scare, and as good as Snow and particularly Combs are I just don’t think this is one malevolent dinner party I could urge even genre fanatics open to this sort of thing to agree to attend.
Film Rating: êê (out of 4)