Directed by: David Guy Levy
Premise: A group of people who have fallen on hard times are invited to a dinner party and take part in a game in which they must choose to do one of two terrible things to themselves or each other.
What Works: Would You Rather is an inventive horror picture. This is a movie about what-ifs and the filmmakers manage to make an outlandish conceit work within the context of the movie. There is an inherent problem to stories in which the scenario resembles events like the Stanford prison experiment or the Stanley Milgram obedience experiment, in which people committed inhuman acts out of deference to authority. Although the results of those experiments are borne out in replicating studies and in many examples from daily life, presenting these ideas credibly in a movie can be challenging. As involving as a horror film can be, viewers have the advantage of observing the drama of a movie from the comfortable distance of a theater seat or a living room couch. Given that separation, it is easy for audiences to condescend and second guess the characters and so filmmakers need to tell their story at a brisk pace and keep it involving enough so that the audience does not give up on the movie. The filmmakers of Would You Rather generally accomplish that. The cast of players in this game are credible people and the deliberations that they go through in each choice are well considered. The film centers on a young woman, played by Brittany Snow, who has a terminally ill brother and is participating in the game in order to pay his medical bills and save his life. Snow and the other actors do well in their parts. Admirably, the filmmakers expand the cast from the predictable crop of attractive young actors that usually populate a low budget horror film to include players of different ages and backgrounds. This adds to the movie’s credibility and actually makes the brutality of the film a little more unnerving. The violence in Would You Rather is often impressively staged. This is a movie that could easily get redundant or gratuitous but it doesn’t. The filmmakers find ways to block the action so that the emphasis of each scene is on the choices of the characters as opposed to their acts. The plot of the film also breaks up the repetition by adding a few unexpected twists.
What Doesn’t: Would You Rather may leave some viewers wishing it went further, either it terms of its gore and violence or with respect to its ideas. Even though the conceit of Would You Rather is quite similar to Saw, the film is nowhere near as extreme as that film and its many sequels and imitators. At the same time, the movie is a little perfunctory with its ideas. After the true nature of the game is revealed the players are compelled to stay at gun point. This seems like a cheat; it would be more interesting if they were held to the game by their greed or other personal agendas. Would You Rather is a low budget movie and that occasionally shows in the production values of the film. The filmmakers use as lot of master and medium shots; a little more variety of focus and camera placement might have livened up some of the sequences. If any one thing about Would You Rather is likely to divide audiences it is bound to be the ending. Like the very conceit of the film, there really is no good way to end this story. The climax and the subsequent coda suit the movie and the filmmakers earn credit for being faithful to the momentum of their story but they’re not likely to leave the viewer on a satisfied note, at least not those looking for a closed or happy resolution.
DVD extras: Commentary track, image gallery, trailers.
Bottom Line: Would You Rather is a successful combination of Saw and Rope. It’s nowhere near a perfect movie but it is quite well done and a unique addition to the torture films that have been so popular. It’s much smarter than many of them and it’s the kind of movie that horror fans and academics will find fascinating.
Episode: #454 (September 1, 2013)