Some pretty catchy creepy piano music opens this movie about a dinner party from hell. Would You Rather (available on Netflix UK) opens with Iris (Brittany Snow) searching for a job to help pay for her brother’s bone marrow treatment, and settle the debts their parents left behind when they passed away. She’s a sweet kid, soft-spoken, holding a door open for a lady in a wheelchair and helping her through, so we instantly like her. Her brother’s doctor, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Billard, Jr – yay, Bob!!) notices her money woes and introduces her to Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs – yay, Weyoun!!), who has an “opportunity” that might result in some much-needed cash – the same opportunity that Dr. Barden won the previous year. So, you know…with that endorsement, there’s nothing to be afraid of, right? Right?
Iris gets suitably dolled up, says bye for the night to her depressed brother and arrives at a ginormous mansion for the world’s most deviant episode of Come Dine With Me. The rest of the guests (which include John Heard, Eddie Steeples, Sasha Grey and the riotous June Squibb) mingle, but have no idea what’s in store for them. Dinner is then served, which is a measly, grisly-looking, fake prop chunk of medium-rare children’s toy steak. News flash, poshos: Adding asparagus and a jus does not make a dull lump of meat anything but. Even chavs know what a jus is. And asparagus? Bitch, we have brie, grape and cranberry sarnies as a standard in the local Tesco. This is nothing special. I bet these pretentious fuckboys call chips “frites”. Without adding the fucking “pomme”, because they’re just not pretentious enough, I guess. Anyway, I wouldn’t feed that to a dog that’s the reincarnated spirit of everyone horrible in the world ever. And there’s only the one fucking course. There isn’t even any dessert! It’s main course only, then straight to the “entertainment”…
…Which encroaches onto the main meal. Our first hint that something might be a bit off about this dinner party is when Iris mentions that she’s a lifelong vegetarian (well, then you should have fucking told them earlier so that they could have planned ahead – I have to do this all the time). Rather than grill her about why she’s probably pro-choice or douchebaggingly eat a steak in front of her, Shepard goes one up and offers her $10,000 to eat all the meat on her plate. After some hesitation, she does, though I’m surprised she doesn’t vomit. Shepard then notices that The Dad From Home Alone isn’t drinking any of his wine, and when he answers that he’s a recovering alcoholic (probably from all those times he kept forgetting Kevin), he offers him $50,000 to drink an entire decanter of Scotch (won’t that kill you?). He does, and it’s that plus Shepard’s shameless laughter that clue the group in that something’s a wee bit sadistic here.
After the plates are cleared, Shepard offers everyone a one-time chance to leave. Everybody is fucking stupid and stays. Shepard then announces the evening’s main activity – a parlour game called “Would You Rather”….but with a bit of a twist. One person is fitted with some headgear, and is offered the choice of electrocuting themselves, or the person to their right. Before the game begins, Kevin’s Dad is full of scotch and says “fuck you” to everyone, but when he tries to leave he is shot dead.
Understandably, everyone’s freaked out, especially as there are a handful of armed guards behind them. And so begins a series of relatively restrained Saw-esque torture porn episodes, each more creative and horrific than the last, including eye-ball slicing, whipping and holding one’s breath underwater.
It’s grim stuff and there are some moments of tension, but the film never really strays beyond one-set, B-movie filmmaking. Some of the imagery, especially in the opening credits, is quite stylish, but the design looks cheap (especially that aforementioned meat). Acting is decent, but beyond Snow’s sympathetic performance, most of the other characters aren’t given much to do but look scared and then cry out in pain while sitting in a chair. One standout (unfortunately, negative) is Grey’s performance; not sure what went wrong here, because she’s a capable actress, but she delivers her lines like her mouth is sharting out the words while trying to do an impression of Anna Paquin. What the fuck. Especially as her silent acting’s quite effective – her wry glances and emotional acting, especially when her character breaks facade, are compelling to watch. Robin Lord Taylor (i.e., arguably the best thing about Gotham) is uncomfortably convincing in a short role as Julian, Sheperd’s spoiled, Joffrey-esque, rapist creep of a son, but impressive eye-bag-owner and theatre veteran Jonny Coyne is poorly utiilsed as the family butler Bevan; when he does have lines, you’ll wish he had more of them.
To pull something like this off, you need a good script with sharp dialogue, and a charismatic actor for the Shepard. Would You Rather has neither. When Shepard speaks, it’s like a used car salesman wandered into a stately home and started giving weak arguments for the death penalty. Neither he not the dialogue are engaging enough to push Shepard’s agenda when asked, “Why are you doing this?”.
This results in a movie that’s just a slightly less gory excuse for torture porn. There’s no social commentary on wealth disparity, or the callous treatment of people in need, or even the fact that an educated young woman is driven to participate in a murderous party game run by powerful, untouchable freaks because she cannot afford the life-saving medical treatment her brother desperately needs. It’s just creative torture game after creative torture game, and even with that, there’s no commentary on us as the voyeur or anything even remotely profound. This film does exactly what it says on the tin, with no ambiguity or real shocks or twists. Ir’s like if Drax decided to make a movie.