Would you rather watch a Twilight film...or read Zach's review of David Guy Levy's latest film? Yeah...we thought so.
We have come to a point in the genre where “torture porn” has been old and tired out for several years and since then has diminished and will (hopefully) fade away with the introduction of another trend (right now, with Paranormal films and movies like The Conjuring, it seems supernatural is making a comeback). The plot for Would You Rather across as yet another film attempting to cash in on a horror trend that has become obsolete; the entire premise of being forced to subjugate oneself to punishments similar to the Saw sequels did not seem appealing or unique. However, with a pretty great cast (the wonderful Jeffrey Combs as well as the very likable Britney Snow) and a halfway decent trailer, Would You Rather appeared to be worth checking out.
The plot follows its protagonist, Iris (Britney Snow), desperately attempting to make money for her dying brother, Raleigh (Logan Miller), who is in need of an expensive surgery. (Un)luckily, she is referred by her doctor to a rich aristocrat, Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs) who hosts a game each year in which members play several rounds of “Would You Rather” and the winner walks away with as much money as they please. However, as expected, this is not as simple as it sounds, as the contestants realize that this game is played until there is only one person alive.
Would You Rather is surprising in the amount of things it does right. For starters, this is not exploitation; the gore is limited, often off-screen, making the focus not on the deaths, but rather on how the characters respond to these intense situations. This proves to be much more interesting than in films like the Saw sequels, in which the gore is pure spectacle and firsthand to the convoluted and nonsensical plot. Restraint is a quality lacking in most modern horror films, and Would You Rather maintains it in the right moments. Additionally, the film does a decent job at establishing its protagonist, Iris. One of the most impressive decisions from the filmmakers was just creating a character for Britney Snow, and not playing her up physically. This seems like a silly compliment for a film, but there is not one single shot used where her body is the focus, never a dress that is revealing just for the camera. Rather, Snow is a developed and likable character who is strong in her convictions and has a nice amount of subtleties, contrasting sharply with most modern horror films I have seen recently which also use their female characters for spectacle.
The most fascinating sequences in Would You Rather center around the actual game being played, and seeing the characters react to the decisions they must make. These parts of the film are actually fairly interesting; characters show their true faces, illustrating how far they would go for money, but are never labeled as just good or evil. Rather, they are presented as realistic people, and even those that appear one dimensional in the beginning become slightly more complex. Additionally, this is where the most tension builds. The characters are timed in their decisions, and this makes these scenes that much more effective and, at times, difficult to watch.
However, this is where the first of the problems start. These scenes exist in the film, but they are fairly limited. After a tense first and second round of the game, the tension begins to let up, largely due to an annoying and completely unnecessary subplot that amounts to nothing, simply taking the audience out of the intensity that could have been built much more substantially. A more focused narrative, with more development of the characters at hand, would have proved to be a more compelling film, one that could have had multiple layers. Only some of the characters get a back story by the end of the film, leaving several of them completely unknown and therefore much less interesting. Also, the entire concept of how much a person would do for money is only lightly touched upon, and more focus on this theme would have strengthened the entire narrative. One of the biggest problems with the movie, unfortunately, is its very ending, which is completely predictable, unnecessary, and takes away from what could have been a decently satisfying finale. It attempts to be shocking and provocative, but comes across as unoriginal and pointless (especially because of how obvious it is early on in the film).
Overall, Would You Rather is very surprising in its restraint, and how delicately it handles elements that could have been exploited, but does not truly succeed due to an unfocused narrative and an unnecessary ending. It does the best with the plot it has, which is a decent take on the tired torture sub-genre, but is not entirely original in itself. Combs and Snow certainly help to make this film much more compelling and give great performances, as does the supporting cast, who generally all do a good job. The film certainly does not deserve half of some of the hate it is getting. It’s nothing terribly special, but is one of the better and more complex “torture” films to come out recently.