Movie: Would You Rather
Director: David Guy Levy
Distributor: Periscope Entertainment
It’s pretty hard to make torture-based horror interesting these days. Ever since Saw and Hostel emerged over a decade ago the world has been consistently flooded with imitations heavy on gore, but light on anything worth remembering. It’s a fine line of subgenre entertainment that requires filmmakers to make watching people suffer enjoyable in some form to people who watch films, and mastering the craft is rarified air in the world of scares. Steffen Schlachtenhaufen’s Would you Rather is the latest offering that hopes to reach these heights, and the results are a bit surprising.
As if the title isn’t setup enough, Would You Rather follows a young woman named Iris who agrees to join seven strangers in a deadly game hosted by a sadistic rich guy and his equally vile son in an attempt to get the money for a surgery her dying brother desperately needs. It’s a relatively clever, albeit familiar, plot device that takes its sweet time to put things into motion. We learn that Iris is the only person her brother has, and it’s clear from the opening minutes that their relationship (and very livelihood) are in dire straits. She confides in her psychiatrist, and he introduces her to a local aristocrat name Shepard Lambrick, and he offers her the opportunity to change things if she will join him for dinner. It’s unclear why the others join in, but the development of their individual personalities throughout the story makes up for this slight oversight.
The players gather at a house far from the city and Lambrick slowly begins to reveal his devious intentions. Viewers are treated to a fine dinner that involves Lambrick offering various members cash in exchange for going against their own personal life choices, as well as the introduction of his various staff members. It’s a small-scale reveal of what soon follows, and it’s brilliantly executed in a way that is both unnerving and engaging. The tension builds to an uncomfortable height before Lambrick offers everyone the option to depart from the house on their own free will. No on leaves, of course, and the true game finally begins.
It’s at this point Would You Rather hits its stride. With eight players, two hosts, and four staff members, what would normally be in danger of quickly becoming a repetitive sequence of mass torture scenes becomes a twisting guessing game of survival. Schlachtenhaufen’s script gives viewers plenty to love and hate, with a few minor side stories thrown in for extra (though unnecessary) spice. I want to go into detail, but as this is the true meat of the story it feels wrong to give away anything beyond generic descriptions. Just know that the games will indeed make nearly anyone shutter with discomfort, and that there is plenty NOT shown in the trailer (found below).
Though the final twenty minutes come dangerously close to ruining the strength of the preceding forty minutes, Would You Rather manages to reach its closing credits without falling apart. The overall story is much stronger than the setup leads you to believe, and even the most absurd moments of terror are grounded by a strong cast. It’s hard to say this is the kind of film that will make you fall in love with the torture-loving world of horror all over again, but it does assure you that there is still some fun to be had at the expense of others.
Review written by: James shotwell