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Would You Rather

2012 | 93 min | R | 2.39:1

Would You Rather


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Theatrical release date

 15 February, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Screenshots from Would You Rather Blu-ray

Would You Rather Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 15, 2013

Out of all the horror productions that flood the market every year, it takes a special idea and level of execution to catch attention. Basic shock value is no longer enough to pass muster. “Would You Rather” isn’t blessed with a comfy budget or particularly strong actors, but there’s a suffocating feeling of suspense and personal ruin carrying the proceedings along, with a healthy amount of tension to savor. It’s a humdinger of a picture at times, guaranteed to rile up even the most jaded viewer, while presenting an interesting, if incomplete, portrait of human nature as it’s faced with a cold reality of choice and survival.

Left with crippling debt after the death of her parents, while striving to care for her brother (Logan Miller), who’s in need of a bone marrow transplant to live, Iris (Brittany Snow) is at the end of her options, recently turned down for a waitress job at a local diner. Offering her redemption is the mysterious Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs), who invites Iris to a dinner party that will end in a group game, with the winner provided immediate financial freedom. Joining the likes of skeptic Conway (John Heard), wheelchair-bound Linda (June Squibb), and shattered Iraq war vet Travis (Charlie Hofheimer), Iris is alarmed to discover that Lambrick isn’t out to provide help to those in need, instead challenging them to a ferocious game of “Would You Rather?” With the doors locked, the wait staff armed, and the players desperate, the contest commences as planned, with Lambrick masterminding rounds of vicious escalation until one guest is left alive to collect the prize.

After numerous “Saw” sequels, it seemed the whole concept of macabre game playing was dried up, reduced to cliches and unmotivated torment in a legion of knockoffs. Credit director David Guy Levy and screenwriter Steffen Schlachtenhaufen for reinvigorating the mystery and psychology of chance, funneling a unique display of elective punishment into a creepy picture that uses its limited resources wisely. Outside of a few establishing trips to a failed job interview and a meeting with Lambrick at cohort Dr. Barden’s (Lawrence Gillard Jr.) office, “Would You Rather” largely unfolds inside a foreboding dining room, pitting the increasingly agitated contestants around a table, with the host and his slimy son Julian (Robin Taylor) orchestrating the evening’s events. Lighting and shot choice is minimal, but these limitations come to inspire Levy, who emphasizes the ugliness of the party, while Schlachtenhaufen dreams up a few twisted challenges that bring the players to the brink of death.

“Would You Rather” is a violent movie, with a few extreme moments of self-mutilation and murder that make it a specialized sit for those who enjoy a considerable offering of bodily harm with their popcorn and soda. While the pain is gruesomely detailed as the challenges increase (at one point, the players have to pick between stabbing their neighbor with an ice pick or beating Travis with a African weapon, and that’s one of the easy quandaries), the concept behind the game is intriguing, asking the participants to decide between self-preservation or humane behavior, with a few electing to absorb Lambrick’s demonic, tightly timed choices to prevent harm toward others around the table.

This noose of compassion is tightened throughout the feature, with the dinner guests desperately clinging to their ideals as the host tosses stacks of money their way, asking Conway to wipe away 16 years of sobriety on a decanter of scotch for $50,000, or urging Iris, a longstanding vegetarian, to consume steak and foie gras for $10,000. Questions of integrity and endurance are toyed with mercilessly, and as the stakes are raised, the players are pushed to extremes, caught between murder and monetary salvation -- a sick position, but one they elected to pursue.

Again, it takes a strong stomach to enjoy “Would You Rather,” but there is a certain cartoon quality to the production provided by Combs, who treats his time as Lambrick as a moment to channel Bond villainy, diluting the sinister aspects of the character with an over-the-top performance that should rightfully trigger instant panic with his guests, but that would make the movie roughly 20 minutes long. Supporting turns by Taylor, Eddie Steeples, and Sasha Grey also lack refinement, confusing the intensity of the moment. On the plus side, Snow is surprisingly effective as our guide into Lambrick’s evening of horrors, registering convincing confusion, terror, and, eventually, submission. It’s strong work from a consistently lightweight actress.

“Would You Rather” is disturbing and terrifying, while also as smart as the genre allows. It’s a mix of cruelty and suspense, handled with care by the production, making the horror and irony land with equal impact.

Starring: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, John Heard, Jonny Coyne, Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., Enver Gjokaj
Director: David Guy Levy

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