- Written By: Steffen Schlachtenhaufen
- Running Time: 93 minutes
- Directed By: David Guy Levy
- Starring: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Enver Gjokaj, Sasha Grey, Jonny Coyne, John Heard, Eddie Steeples, Charlie Hofheimer, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., June Squibb, Robin Taylor, Robb Wells, Logan Miller
- Distributed By: IFC Midnight
WOULD YOU RATHER has a fairly gimmicky, manufactured premise, but that doesn’t stop it from being an effective horror film, mostly due to its game and talented cast. Iris (Brittany Snow of AMERICAN DREAMS, NIP/TUCK, HAIRSPRAY, PROM NIGHT) is a college age student forced to return home to tend to her sick brother, who needs a bone marrow transplant and happiness. Their parents are nowhere to be found, and may have been lost in the “accident” from which her brother Raleigh suffers, though the movie never shines a light on it and we don’t much care. Iris isn’t qualified to get a serving job at a restaurant, let alone a job that would actually keep her afloat among the massive amount of debt, but pins her hope on being a hostess anyways.
She goes to the clinic to get medicine and drugs for her brother, but in her meeting with Dr. Barden (THE WIRTE and THE WATERBOY’s Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), she is thrust into the company of one Shephard Lambrick (STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE and STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE’s Jeffrey Combs, chomping on scenery as voraciously as his character goes through pistachios), a wealthy businessman. It’s the most awkward scene of the film, but at least it drives the plot forward. Lambrick invites her to a dinner party for a game, where the winner will be taken care of for life. Her brother will get a transplant, she’ll get money, all will be taken care of. If she wins. Turns out, Dr. Barden was the winner and recipient of Lambrick’s generosity earlier in life, and told Lambrick about Iris’ “candidacy.” Predictably, Iris thinks it’s a joke, or not real, but she is forced to RSVP when she hears bad news in regards to her job interview (have you ever gotten a call back saying you didn’t get the job? I think those are reserved for higher level positions than server). She lies to Raleigh and says she’s going out on the town with girlfriends, and is picked up by a town car later that night.
Once at the party, the movie picks up (read: gets entertaining), as we meet the other party guests/contestants/players. It’s a fun game for the audience in itself to recognize all the actors involved, all people you’ve loved in something else. There’s THE SOPRANOS and HOME ALONE’s John Heard, as Conway. MY NAME IS EARL’s Eddie Steeples as Cal, DOLLHOUSE’s Enver Gjokaj (who is/should be on the brink of kicking ass in a leading role in a TV show, in my opinion) as Lucas and MAD MEN’s Charlie Hofheimer as Travis. Don’t forget the punky, morose Amy, who is played by pornstar and “serious” ENTOURAGE actor Sasha Grey, and a slew of others (there are eight players). With the exception of Grey’s Amy, who makes no attempt to be liked or to play nice, every other competitor wants to work together and seem like genuine, good people.
Things change, however. After drinks in the study (and placing all their possessions into a bowl), the group coalesces to the dinner table, with a wonderful looking steak and foie gras on tap. But, Iris is a vegetarian, and doesn’t eat meat. That’s when the festivities begin, with Lambrick offering Iris $10,000 to eat the meal. After some trepidation and uneasiness, she gobbles it up. Conway is the only one among them not drinking; Lambrick learns he’s a recovering alcoholic, and offers him $10,000 to drink a glass of wine, or $50,000 for a decanter of scotch. Both offers really set the tone of the game/film, and get you squirming early, and Heard’s conflicted Conway is terrific. As he chooses the decanter for the bigger stack of cash, you just know it was the wrong decision, and look forward to see why. Then, he explains the game: a variation of (you guessed it) Would You Rather, where each player has to make a decision, but actually has to act on it, in the allotted time period. Lambrick offers everyone a chance to leave, no strings attached, before the game begins. No one leaves, though Conway drunkenly considers, and you know it’s the last thing he’ll ever do. When the sadistic butler Bevans (ALCATRAZ’s Jonny Coyne) brings out a modified car battery intent on torture, the players finally see what they’re in for. But it’s too late.
In spite of myself, I wanted to know what awful choices these players were going to make, what awful offers would be given, what strategy they would take (or what strategy would I take?), who would make it to the end (aside from Iris, because let’s be honest, you know she’s a shoo-in for a high ranking finish). It’s an excellent way to learn a little bit about each of these characters, when they’re offered the choice to electrocute themselves or another player, or to stab someone in the thigh or whip someone else three times. It’s voyeuristic, guilty pleasure stuff, making a commentary on the SAW inspired, gross-out torture porn horror culture. Lambrick giddily laps up the discomfort, pain and horror in others, seeing it as a worthy hobby for his extra cash. What does that say about me for meeting them halfway, about those that relish these type of movies? I think that that train of thought is perhaps giving filmmaker David Guy Levy and screenwriter Steffen Schlachtenhaufen (his name may as well be Schadenfreude) too much credit, but it’s an dilemma nonetheless. While the film may be wondering why people love SAW, it still uses the same tropes to get scares and squirms from its audience.
The movie has several missteps along the way, including trying to make Dr. Barden guilty for selling Iris out to Lambrick. He’s conflicted, but acts to save her and others from the game, despite being paid off for his silence. I liked the anti-climactic resolution of it, because the character didn’t deserve much more, but we also don’t care. There was also Lambrick’s maniacal son Julian (ACCEPTED’s Robin Taylor), who was Lambrick’s only chink in his armor, and had clearly almost ruined games in years past. Why? What did he do? It’s obvious why he’s so screwed up (being a spectator of these games must’ve made for an interesting childhood), but he’s kind of thrown into the mix as another element of crazy, with no rhyme or reason, wasting what could’ve been a twisted performance.
You know how the game is going to end, and perhaps you’ll even know the final scene like I did, but WOULD YOU RATHER succeeds in spite of its slim plot, thanks to a great group of character actors, and the entertaining (in spite of yourself) twists and turns they’re sent on in the cruel and torturous game.
The film is already out in limited release and is now available on VOD. Check it out at SundanceNOW.