The Dare, 2020.
Directed by Giles Alderson.
Starring Bart Edwards, Richard Brake, Richard Short, Robert Maaser, Alexandra Evans, Mitchell Norman, Harry Jarvis, and Daniel Schutzmann.
A rare family night for Jay takes a brutal twist when he awakens in a basement with three other prisoners. As their vengeful captor runs riot, Jay engages in a twisted battle to solve the puzzle to his past and save his family’s future.
Giles Alderson’s The Dare is a routine and formulaic tale of karmic comeuppance. A “harmless” childhood event returns to haunt adult characters, their pasts attempting to erase their future. We’ve seen this…well, a kajillion times. How do Alderson and co-writer Jonny Grant elevate genre storytelling that’s been implemented for decades upon millenniums? By locking chained-up prisoners in a disgusting room with no discernable details, someone watching them on a camera, questions abound. No, not like Saw. Well, wait, yes very much like Saw. There’s even a hog mask nod. Have we been transported back to a post-2004 fallout where every indie project attempted to recreate James Wan’s “torture porn” magic?
Jay Jackson (Bart Edwards) awakens bound in captivity against his will. Security guard Adam (Richard Short) and battered Kat (Alexandra Evans), also restrained, inform Jay that he better be on his best behavior. Nothing but a bolted, heavy-plated door allows visitors in or out, and there’s only one person who ever enters. A lumbering, muscly mute with a tree bark lookin’ mask who forces his playthings to harm one another at random. Flay some flesh, nail someone’s hands in a crucifix pose, you name it. Can Jay and his new friends piece together why they’ve been kidnapped before Mr. Mystery Maniac kills each prisoner?
What plays out is essentially “Fear Factor: Mumble Murderer Edition” since torments largely involve insects and open orifices. We meet Adam and Kat in already bruised states, a fourth victim Paul (Daniel Schutzmann) has his mouth sewn and is bleeding from multiple gashes, which leaves the suffering at hand to be thematically driven. Cockroaches and spiders are pulled from jarred habitats, although CGI’ed crawlers downplay some of the “ick” factors. Even before Alderson’s brute mastermind becomes repetitive with his violent vendetta.
The Dare attempts a few rope-a-dope narrative “twists” that may or may not explain why four humans have been penned like piggies, but flashbacks are of a garden variety backstory breed. At least these scenes feature Richard Brake as an on-brand creeper who sprays children with blood hoses and what have you. “Father Of The Year” type stuff that establishes a history of traumatizing abuse that may explain Alderson’s antagonist, and eventually why Jay’s been targeted. Kids being kids and all, cruel as ever. Boilerplate horror content on how to make a monster out of the most innocent lamb from the herd.
With a title like “The Dare,” viewers might assume some type of game afoot so let me squash that hope. Alderson’s contained “puzzle” is straightforward and largely restricted to a dingy basement lockbox. There’s no thrill of the hunt or battle of wits, only heinous instructions grunted from behind a meathead’s artificial expression. As a critic who’s found himself watching countless titles attempting these exact punishing beats, copycat syndrome feels like it overtakes the minute Jay rises from his unconscious slumber. We’ve been here before, lived these horrors, just the title was swapped a couple hundred times.
Spotlighting gore effects, it’s all about what we’re allowed to see versus when the camera cuts away. Removed fingernails will always instigate a squirm, and there’s some “eye fuckery” we’ll call it that earns an audible gasp, but otherwise, effects are added (questionably) in post or hidden from sight. Jay is the recipient of a gnarly nails-through-hands sequence, but there’s nothing that excitedly stands out against oodles of other digitized optical wounds or sliced abdomens. I kept waiting for Alderson to kick things up a notch in Emeril terms, only to endure a film about coaxing out “evil” that stays one-dimensional in terms of development and expectancies.
It’s true how The Dare may present itself a bit cleaner when stacked alongside low-budget torture porners of years past, but it’s still no more inventive. Giles Alderson positions Jay’s survival as a gauntlet to save his family, yet sequences exist with barely enough tension to fill his captor’s cramped, guts-soaked chamber. A simplistic cut of horror meat that’s moderately seasoned, sparsely dressed, and churned out from assembly line mentalities that never push to raise proverbial stakes. Can’t say it makes the most of meager means and humble production efforts, but at least it makes *some* usage compared to other even more systematically molded slaughterhouse churns-outs.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).