(The gist: A clever blend of the dinner party of You’re Next and the mind games of Saw, Would You Rather kept me both interested and entertained. While the pace could have been amped up and the gore could have been fully consummated, it is totally worth the watch.)
We all played Would You Rather as children. Usually, the options were relatively innocuous. Would you rather eat a bug or kiss the kid you had a crush on? But what if they were not so inane? What if the choices were, literally, life or death?
Now that would make an interesting game. Or horror movie.
Would You Rather assembles a cast of desperate characters who have agreed to compete in a game hosted by an aristocratic family. Whoever wins the game takes home the money and support they seek. The players quickly learn that participation is not optional and being eliminated means being executed.
Honestly, the premise was enough to sell me. To me, the film watches as a blend between Saw and You’re Next, both films I greatly enjoy. The dinner party gone horror of You’re Next meets the psychological and traumatic choices of Saw. I loved the combination and found myself fully engaged and entertained the entire time.
The characters are developed at different depths. Iris, the protagonist, is endowed with the most backstory and empathy. The other players are rounded out strategically to balance the scenario, allowing you to root for different characters at each choice. Glimpses of their backstories are flashed but never realized, just enough to pique your interest and make them want to survive long enough to tell you. The cast is peppered with recognizable yet not big-name actors that make you say, "hey, it's that one guy!"
I enjoyed watching the psychology in each play and at each layer. There is the psychology of the hosts, both Shephard and his son Julian (wonderfully cast as the future Penguin of Gotham) and why they are executing and so thoroughly enjoying their sadistic game. Then there is the psychology of each participant and why they are willing to endure so much for monetary gain. Finally, there is the psychology of the players as a group and how they align and turn on each other for survival and dominance.
Psychology and horror is always a recipe that works on me, especially when it is done in a way that maintains my interest.
Not to mention, I am always a sucker for a poetic twist ending. Even if I did see this one coming, I appreciated it (no spoilers!).
My one complaint on the film is that it is too suggestive. The characters face some truly heinous choices and consequences, yet the filmmakers seem to pull their punches at the end with each of them. If they had gotten a little dirtier, showed a little more, I think the punishments would have resonated even more with the audience.
Show me the eyeball slice! Give that gore that I am watching horror for.
As a whole, Would You Rather is surprisingly successful as psychological horror. I would happily include it on my shelf between the Saw franchise and You’re Next.