Would You Rather (2012)

Director:  David Guy Levy
Studios:  Periscope Entertainment, Social Construct
Starring:  Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Enver Gjokaj, Sasha Grey; ft. John Heard
Tagline:  Tell Yourself It's Just a Game.
MPAA Rating:  Unrated
Genre:  horror, thriller, psychological thriller, drama
Scare score:  C
Rating:  B-

Plot overview:  Following their parents' deaths, Iris (Snow) has dedicated her life to supporting herself and her brother Raleigh (Logan Miller) who suffers from terminal leukemia.  Between jobs and out of school, Iris is desperate for help when her brother's physician, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), introduces her to a rich philanthropist named Shepard Lambrick (Combs).  Lambrick invites Iris to a dinner party at which "a game" will be played, and as he explains, the winner of the game will have all of their problems - financial, medical, what have you - taken care of completely.  Although the offer seems too good to be true, Iris attends the party where she meets the other guests who also seem to be suffering from various afflictions and responsibilities.  As soon as the first course is served, however, the game and terror begin, and the bounds of human desperation are pushed to the extreme.

Before I begin, I'd just like to give a shout out to Bloody Brooklynn because I found this title on her blog, and it turned out to be a really fun watch for my Saturday late night flick.

The first thing that's going to catch our attention (or my attention, at least) about this film is Brittany Snow's bill.  Snow is an actress that never ceases to grab my attention because while I always feel like she's such a budding little starlet, is she really doing that much?  Yeah we've all seen Hairspray, Prom Night (which I have to review), and, of course, Pitch Perfect, but I wonder if Snow has quite broken out of her ingenue role in Hollywood.  What I'm trying to say is once you've starred in big name blockbusters, why *regress* to, say, a random horror movie like Would You Rather?  Then again I live abroad and have no idea what publicity for this film's release was like.  Either way, I think she consistently delivers in her movie rolls ranging from horrors to musicals, so I'm absolutely on the lookout for her to bring us bigger and better things in the future.

Continuing on my Snow spiel, her acting seemed pretty much the same to me here as it has been in the other movies I've seen her in.  Not that that's a bad thing, but maybe that explains why she hasn't burst onto the A-list scene yet.  She's cute, innocent (even if this movie pushes her no-more-misses-nice-girl altitudes), desperate, and I guess somehow finds her inner strength/ will here.  Not that her transition and development as a character is the most believable-

In fact, I wasn't sure about the reactions of the various dinner guests throughout the playing of the game, partially due to the script itself.  They all keep talking about "logic" when in several major accounts they don't do anything logical.


Example:  In round 2, each guest is giving a choice to stab their neighbor in the leg with an icepick or beat Travis (Charlie Hofheimer) with a sjambok 3 times.  When it comes round to Cal (Eddie Steeples), he doesn't want to stab anybody so he chooses to whip the down and almost dead Travis.  Everybody reacts as if this were the worst thing he could possibly do, and even though he doesn't necessarily kill Travis, everybody treats him as a murderer.  Cal even gives himself a really poorly acted guilt trip.  But let's look at the facts: Travis was down for the count, as butler Bevans (Jonathan Coyne) informs Lambrick (and I think as the remaining guests can assume).  Basically by choosing to beat Travis again, he is helping put the suffering ex-soldier out of his misery instead of injuring an otherwise healthy contestant.  What's the harm in that?  Logically, it was safer for all of them that he hurt a man who was already down instead of injuring or potentially killing a healthy person.  Come on, people.

Then again, this game isn't fair in general, and I would have walked out at the beginning when given the chance.  What they don't clearly explain while explaining the rules here is that before a contestant even gets a chance to play, he or she might be killed off or made to be considered unfit to play by someone else.  That's not fair at all (like the last round, ugh).  The only reason Iris does well here is because she was taken in by the gentlemanly Cal and Lucas (Gjokaj) who do their best to protect her quite unlike the ferocious, trashy, frustratingly unstable yet sexy Amy (Grey).  The cutie award goes to wheelchair-bound Linda (June Squibb) - who knows how such a dear old lady got tied up in such a dastardly dinner party.

Hands down the most important thing about this movie is the fact that Mr. McCallister, apparently down on his luck perhaps after a messy divorce and his fortune lost through alimony and grievous lawsuits from child wellness lawyers after forgetting his youngest son Kevin not once but twice on family vacations, is here to play the game.  Now a recovering alcoholic, Peter unfortunately leaves the dinner party rather unexpectedly because of his failure to understand the rules.  And to think that 50 g could have been his…. Okay, so I've had my fun, but I love John Heard and Home Alone 1 and 2 are the best movies of all time, 'nuff said.

Otherwise, I thought acting was decent enough to carry us through the movie (that progresses rather quickly).  The obvious star here is Jeffrey Combs who is a face I'm so familiar with but can't quite place (apparently he was in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in a role I don't remember).  He was really fantastic as a quirky and easy-to-hate sadistic rich man with that terrible habit of munching on nuts or whatever he was always chewing on; I wanted to smack the snacks out of his cruel mouth.  I also thought that Robin Taylor in the role of Julian Lambrick was really excellent in an unstable, unpredictable kind of way.  His portrayal was toned-down and just right.

Let's talk about the scares.  I like movies like this because they're not unnecessarily gory (I guess this wasn't actually gory at all) but we're always set up to be made really uncomfortable, as much for the physical as for the psychological.  Now I'm more of a Never Have I Ever guy myself, but Would You Rather is a difficult game as it is (would you rather have sandpaper hands or hot dog fingers?  Impossible!) even without life and death consequences.  We don't like thinking about what we as humans are capable of doing to ourselves or other humans for the sake of a loved one, and this movie rubs it all up in our faces.  What would you do?

As far as the actual questions and rounds of the game went, I was rather surprised and found that the movie played it safe rather than branching into more disgusting things.  The fact that the first two rounds only provided us with two options each really caught me by surprise because I thought that each new question would be different and worse than the last.  In my opinion, the electrocution choice, and later the whip or stab choice made the movie more boring, or at least more tame.  Only the envelop round - which played with the unknown - was interesting to me.  By the end of the film, the only would you rather that was actually disturbing for me was when Lucas has to cut his own eye, which I don't think I would be able to do either.  And is it just Horror Buff, or does Lucas do that rather rashly?  Probably hurt himself a lot more there than he needed to.  Yuck.

The worst thing about this movie is not that people have to hurt or kill each other, but rather that the whole game is conducted under such pretenses of class and good manners - reminiscent of Paul in Funny Games - that really frustrates us as viewers while simultaneously adding to the terrible charm of Shepard and his staff.

Then, of course, we arrive to the end of the movie.  As soon as Iris leaves that place we're all asking ourselves how she's going to live with herself, and if helping her brother or even saving his life is worth what happened in that dining room.  Then given Raleigh's choice (was it on purpose?) kind of spins the whole previous night's events back in her face.  Sure she can live comfortably now - if she can live with herself.

Final critique:  This was a fun movie that flies by pretty quickly while putting it's own terrible twist on a classic party game.  There are plenty of thrills mixed both with drawn out or no suspense whatsoever, leading to plenty of unanticipated emotions and frights.  This is a good movie to watch with a group of friends as public reactions would spice up the various electrocutions, stabbings, shootings, beatings, and drownings.  Not my personal favorite, but definitely an enjoyable watch.