Another harrowing, bloody, but far from boring video game played by real people without a modem, screen or electrical outlet, Would You Rather is a reality-based variation of The Hunger Games staged in an elegant dining room after a particularly deadly dinner party. It reminded me of everything from Ten Little Indians to a low-budget take on Neil Simon’s Murder by Death without the laughs. It’s diverting for people who love games, but not for the squeamish.
Brittany Snow, a staple in B movies and TV soaps, plays Iris, a young woman who returns to her hometown to take care of her sick brother, who desperately needs the money for a bone marrow transplant. With no job qualifications and no prospects, Iris meets a rich “philanthropist” with a strange proposition: attend a dinner party and play a game called “Would You Rather,” and if she wins, his mysterious “foundation” will reward her with a ton of money, make all arrangements for her brother’s immediate surgery and guarantee her future. Arriving in her simple, all-purpose black cocktail dress, Iris meets the other guests, each of whom hides a secret and seems certifiable. Offering Iris, a devout vegetarian, $10,000 to eat a rare rib eye steak without vomiting, and demanding that a recovering alcoholic drink an entire decanter of scotch for $50,000 before the first course is even served, it is obvious that the handsome, fashionably dressed host is the kind of maniac who, back in the day, would have been played by Bela Lugosi. It gets worse.
In the game, the contestants are asked a question and given a 15-second time limit to answer. They must follow through to the end or be eliminated (which means death). The alcoholic (John Heard) elects to walk out early and gets his head shot off, eliminating the only veteran actor in a cast of unknowns. The others are subjected to electroshock treatments, whippings, stabbings with an ice pick, the slicing open of an eyeball with a razor blade (cringeworthy, but hardly original; people who saw Un Chien Andalou have cringed already) and drowning by submerging one’s head in a barrel of water for two minutes. You get the picture. Using the concept of salvation gained by making a choice between the known and the unknown, the punishments devised by the host get more savage with each round. The one outsider who arrives to end the game and save the players is massacred, dashing all hopes. Finally, four people are left, with a stick of dynamite. As in Agatha Christie, “and then there were none.”
Directed with a minimum of camera movement by David Guy Levy, the film’s extreme horror escapes like poisonous gas from every scene. The script is by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen, a name that has no alternative but to be forgotten because nobody can spell it, much less pronounce it. I like the fact that Would You Rather has no stumbling zombies, werewolves with pecs or romantic vampires. The monsters are real people. The game has rules, which turn lethal 99 percent of the time. But there can be only one winner, so that means you have to watch eight agonizing tortures and seven equally grim homicides, taking game-playing to another, more dehumanizing level of contemporary immorality than Agatha Christie ever dreamed of, with none of the fun. The contrived plot is rudimentary, and the actors convey maximum terror. The game-show host is a particularly interesting and colorful fiend, and in the film’s best performance, Jeffrey Combs plays him with a flair that goes above and beyond the call of duty. I won’t reveal who the winner is, but after the final horror, there’s one more twist that will give you nightmares.
WOULD YOU RATHER
Running Time 93 minutes
Written by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen
Directed bY David Guy Levy
Starring Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs and Jonny Coyne