Would You Rather (2012)
“Tell yourself it’s just a game.”
Director: David Guy Levy
Cast: Brittany Snow, June Squibb, Jeffrey Combs
Synopsis: Desperate to help her ailing brother, a young woman unknowingly agrees to compete in a deadly game of “Would You Rather,” hosted by a sadistic aristocrat.
David Guy Levy’s Would You Rather, a film based on a teens’ parlour game, initially harks back to those 1930s mysteries in which a group of strangers gather in some out of the way property for reasons immediately unknown. Here we have eight people, all of whom need money they don’t have for reasons that are explained only for the main character, a young woman named Iris (Brittany Snow) whose younger brother needs a bone marrow transplant and other treatment for his leukaemia. Their parents are both dead, and Iris has spent all their inheritance on treatment, so when she’s offered the opportunity to participate in a high-stakes game of Would You Rather with the prize of complete treatment for her brother as the prize, it’s only natural that she’s going to jump at the chance…
The host and organiser of this unconventional game is the obscenely wealthy Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs) and his creepy son, Julian (Robin Taylor). Lambrick’s oily charm would be enough to start alarm bells ringing in most people’s heads, but the lure of quick money obviously overpowers the intuitive powers of self-preservation of his dinner guests. Things start off fairly benignly with Lambrick offering Iris, a long-term
vegetarian, $10,000 if she’ll chow down on a nice, juicy steak, then grow a little darker when the millionaire offers recovering alcoholic Conway (John Heard) $50,000 to drink a decanter of whiskey. But those little challenges, both of which are accepted, are nothing compared to what awaits once everyone has passed on their last chance to back out of the game. Because once everyone agrees to continue, Lambrick’s butler Bevans (Jonathan Coyne) wheels in a sinister looking machine that comes complete with a couple of headbands, and the contestants are given the choice of either electrocuting themselves or the person sitting next to them.
Although it sets no standards and is obviously far-fetched in the extreme, Would You Rather is actually a lot better than you’d expect it to be thanks to Steffen Schlachtenhaufen’s lean and economical script. There’s enough lines given to each of the characters to at least give them some personality, even if they’re then despatched in short time, and the helpless terror of the people forced to take part in Lambrick’s increasingly sadistic game is believable. The mere premise leaves the plot open to numerous twists, which Schlachtenhaufen exploits nicely, although some — such as the attempt by the doctor who proposed Iris for the game to then sabotage it — go nowhere and are clearly there to pad out the running time. Snow does a decent job in the lead in a part which calls for her character to slowly undergo a 180 degree change, as does former porn star Sasha Grey as a hard-as-nails bitch determined to win the game at all costs. The film’s main failing is a weak twist ending and a lack of retribution against the villains which leaves the viewer with a vague sense of dissatisfaction.