Monday, June 15, 2015

Party Games

With films like Contracted and Plus One, IFC's Midnight division has been scooping up a nice little array of quality horror. Let's see if their track record holds up:

Quick Plot: Iris is not in a happy place. After her parents' death, the poor young woman has had to drop out of  college in order to care for her terminally ill younger brother. With no real source of income, she's struggling to pay for his medical expenses and deal with the horrors of organ donation waiting lists.

Hope is renewed by her doctor (The Wire's D'Angelo Barksdale, who may have been cannibalized on The Walking Dead but will always be D'Angelo Barksdale) who recommends Iris for a sort of philanthropic contest held by the mysterious Shep Lambrick (the delectable Jeffrey Combs, who will always be The Delectable Jeffrey Combs because he is awesomely delectable). The terms are vague, but it seems like a can't-lose for the nothing-left-to-lose that is Iris.

Naturally, the party is a delightful evening of slapstick, wordplay, and miscounted bullets leading to freeze frame.

Or not.

Iris arrives at a swanky mansion to meet a batch of dinner guests/recognizable character actors in the same boat. Among the potential players are Nebraska's delightful June  Squibb as a partially paralyzed senior, former adult actress Sasha Grey as a moody brat, Agent Peggy Carter's pal Enver Gjokaj, Future Creative Director Peggy Olsen's ex Abe, and Mr. McCallister himself, John Heard.

This is a pretty groovy party, and not JUST because it references my two favorite fictional Peggys.

Mr. Lambrick also throws a few extras to the table: his spoiled son Julian (Gotham's only positive note, Robin Lord Taylor) and a butler with even more skills than Tim Curry named Bevans.

Scattegories and Charades are sadly not on the itinerary.
Instead, Mr. Lambrick lures his guests into a rather terrifying game of Would You Rather, the more action-based alternative to Truth or Dare. It starts innocently enough. Would vegetarian Iris rather eat a steak  or give up $10,000? Would recovered alcoholic Mr. McCallister drink a glass of wine for $10,000 or scotch for $50,000?

This is only the practice round.
As you might guess (especially if you've seen the similarly themed and toned 13 Sins), the game escalates with each round, turning contestants against each other and forcing them to confront how far they'll go for a big bag of money. It's a compelling situation because most of us who weren't born Julian Lambrick probably know what it's like to dream of solving all your problems with cash. Like Iris, most of us would never want to willingly play along with inflicting pain (and possible death) on someone else, but when faced with the choices forced upon our characters, it's easy to understand why they act as they do.

Though not quite as clever as 13 Sins, Would You Rather? is another strong entry into, well, whatever this oddly popular subgenre of horror might be called. Director David Guy Levy has assembled a far stronger-than-you'd expect cast of actors who manage to create genuine characters with the absolute minimum exposition. We learn very little about most of the participants, and while I certainly wouldn't have objected to knowing more, the film doesn't suffer for it. The performances all come with the necessary weight to make their lives (and inevitable deaths) matter regardless of whether we know their individual backstories.

I enjoyed Would You Rather? quite a bit, though my ultimate rating suffers a little because 13 Sins came with a little more heft. Nevertheless, Would You Rather? is a smart enough flick, and yet another example of how there remains plenty of quality 21st century horror output to be found outside a movie theater.

High Points
At first, I though I'd be annoyed with the seemingly very typical 'outsider deux ex machina' fix that was teased, but Would You Rather? manages to deal with it in a far more interesting way than I was expecting

Low Points
Perhaps it's just that Robin Lord Taylor was the only good thing on Gotham, but his character's rather abrupt exit (it's not a spoiler, don't worry) was rather frustrating when he posed so much weird and icky potential

Lessons Learned
When attending a mysterious dinner party, consider wearing noiseless flats. You just never know
College is an important place, if only for teaching one the proper pronunciation of the word 'monsieur'

Another dinner party guest tip: avoid sitting next to Sasha Grey. Choose the Agent Carter guy instead

Would You Rather? isn't a game changer, but it's a solid little genre flick built on a strong cast that easily sells what could have been a rote premise. Just over 90 minutes, it's well worth a quick little stream when you're in the mood for good modern horror. 


  1. I think I saw this pop up on Netflix, and I knew I had heard some things about it, but I couldn't recall if they were positive or negative things. Sounds like it might be okay enough to check out, but maybe I should just skip it and watch 13 Sins instead. Also, it sort of sounds like Cheap Thrills, which I actually did thoroughly enjoy.

    1. The cast in this one is just SO good that it makes it worth a watch. I haven't seen Cheap Thrills yet, but I just found 13 Sins to be such a smart and clever take on the material. This one has Sasha Grey playing a bitch, which a lot of people seem really excited for.

  2. I watched this one a while back so I'm a bit fuzzy on it but I remember not being all that hot on it. Sasha Grey's acting was pretty bad (I had no idea who she was till I read up on the movie afterwards)... also, I have to admit that Mr. Combs wasn't doing much for me either.
    Not that I thought it was 'bad'... but somehow not nearly as interesting as I'd hoped.
    Now I need to go watch 13 Sins because I've been passing that one by for a while now.

    1. Grey grew on me as the film went on. I'm always happy to see Combs, and he seemed to be having fun playing a jerkwad. I'd definitely encourage you to give 13 Sins a chance. It's not the most amazing or original watch by any means, but it does a lot right in drawing you in to the main character's life, and has a lot of enjoyable black humor to go around. Let me know if you get to it!