Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Would You Rather

I had noticed this title the other day, scrolling through the new Netflix titles in horror (being that I’m a devout horror fan) and stopped at it when I saw that it had an average of 3 stars (in fact, it looked to be 3.25 or so).  As I sometimes do, I glanced over some of the member reviews, taking observation of some of the serious and detailed takes so as to really get an in-depth account of what the film may be about.  As a plus, I had seen that Jeffrey Combs was in the cast, so I was convinced and added the title to my DVD queue.

Would You Rather opens with Iris (Brittany Snow) back at home to do what she can to take care of her terminally ill (it appears he is stricken with cancer) younger brother, Raleigh (Logan Miller).  We see bills are piling up and it’s even mentioned by the brother, being very pessimistic about it even though Iris tried to keep upbeat—unconvincingly—about the situation.  The house is obviously in foreclosure as a “for sale” sign is shown in front of the house and the overall vibe about their lives is apparently downtrodden as both characters seem very demoralized.

Iris, one day, is called in by her brother’s physician, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.), for a talk about what she thinks is good news about her brother’s situation.  As she enters the office, she notices a man sitting toward the back corner of the office, looking a bit like a slick used car salesman type.  The doctor introduces him as Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs), as the founder of the Lambrick Foundation, who can help her and her brother’s situation.

Lambrick invites her to a dinner party at his house, where a game will be played with seven other dinner guests and that the winner of the game will receive a prize of being financially taken care of for any hardships they may have, informing Iris that her brother’s medical bills will be all paid in full and that the Lambrick Foundation will be able to find a bone marrow donor, having them placed in the front of the line for her brother.  As an added bonus, the foundation will even pay for her to go back to college and pay off any outstanding debts she may have.

Sounding too good to be true, Iris asks to think it over and Lambrick agrees, asking her to decide by that night.  Of course, after realizing the dismal life she has with her brother and how the future doesn’t look promising for them, she calls and agrees to attend.

The night arrives and a car has her picked up and driven to the Lambrick home.  There, she meets and gets to know the other dinner guests/game contestants.  Shortly after, they all sit down for dinner and, later, proceed with the game.

Would You Rather, like most films, had an impressively defined three acts.  The first act was a little slow, but really brought to light the destitution Iris and her brother were facing.  It also showed how much they cared for each other, especially Iris, making us understand why she chooses to attend the dinner—as well as stay for the subsequent game—when she’s invited to do so.

The second act introduces the audience to everyone associated with the dinner/game, including the staff in Lambrick’s employ.  Each guest is given a background, so we can understand their motives when they begin the game, as well as giving them credibility to some of the decisions they make along the way.  It’s during this second third of the film that really feel a sense of dread, knowing something is going to go horribly wrong as  And as the game begins, seeing how Lambrick is willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money—in stacks of cash—for simple dares of a vegetarian to eat meat or a recovering alcoholic to drink a decanter of scotch, we know, as an audience, there’s worse to come.  Each guest is asked to rid themselves of their personal items, such as purses, wallets and cellphones...a sure-tell sign that this is going to be bad.

The third act just goes from a sense of dread to the very realization of it, showing how far the game is going to go. 

Without giving away too much, the game is very sadistic—almost as atrocious as some of the tests in Saw.  But unlike the Saw films, the tests or choices in this story is clearly for the enjoyment of the character who is presenting them. 

As you sit and watch this about to unfold, you can’t help but wonder if you’d do the same if you were in these characters’ shoes, especially at the beginning of the game when Lambrick gives them the choice to leave before the game starts.  It’s easy for someone to sit and scream at the TV and shout questions like, “What are you thinking?!”  But these characters are clearly as destitute as Iris was introduced as in the beginning and you quickly understand their situation.

Written by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen and directed by David Guy Levy, the performances are believable and you really feel what these characters are going through and forced to partake in.  But the stand-out in this film is Jeffrey Combs.  We all know Combs from the Re-Animator series of films, but he definitely plays a completely different character in this movie.   Gone, is his quiet and nerdish intensity that we witnessed in those films.  Instead, we’re treated to Combs channeling the spirit of Bruce Campbell himself (he’s still alive…that’s just the best explanation I can give).   Combs is absolutely over-the-top in this flick, but it’s needed for the levity a film like this should have.  I found myself laughing out loud at some of the lines he delivers and finding myself liking his character even though a person like that should be detested in real life.

Yes, overall, this film surprised me and I found myself liking it right away.  Even though the beginning is slow, it’s necessary to explain the lead character’s motivation and understanding her decisions in the film.  The end result of the game is not surprising and I found myself accepting it, even though I wished there were just a little bit more to it.  A minor twist at the end merely puts the cherry on top of this flick and ends it nicely.  I really hope there’s a sequel to this, as I can see this becoming a nice franchise series of films.

My final “bit” on Would You Rather?

A must-see if you’re a fan of the Saw franchise.  The film’s a very good study of the human psyche, seeing what it’s capable of and making you think long after you eject the DVD.  I found myself wondering what I’d do in Iris’s place at that climatic moment of the film (you’ll know it when you see it) and I tell myself I’d do the right thing.  But disturbingly, I find my mind is in a tug-of-war at that thought.  Would You Rather is definitely a great watch…rent it.

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