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Would You Rather(2012)
Desperate to help her ailing brother, a young woman agrees to compete in a deadly game of "Would You Rather," hosted by a sadistic aristocrat.
For more about Would You Rather and the Would You Rather Blu-ray release, see Would You Rather Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 19, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, John Heard, Jonny Coyne, Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., Enver Gjokaj
Director: David Guy Levy
» See full cast & crew
Would You Rather Blu-ray Review
Consider Your Options
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 19, 2013
One might rightly imagine that a game of "would you rather" featuring adult entertainer Sasha Grey at a wealthy man's dinner party might devolve quickly into kink, but this ain't that kind of movie. As ripe as the setup is for more prurient interests—and my, how easily this film could inspire a porn parody—Would You Rather actually falls into the torture-porn category, more concerned with the rending of flesh than the baring of it. (Sorry to disappoint, fellas, but Ms. Grey remains fully clothed throughout.) Comparisons to Saw are inevitable here, as both involve a psychopathic mastermind putting his victims through gnarly tortures both physical and psychological. However, producer-turned-director David Guy Levy and writer Steffen Schlachtenhaufen stay away from the long-running horror franchise's explicit shocks and gross-out visuals, preferring to mostly let viewers fill in the blanks with their imaginations.
Now, "smarter than your average torture-porn film" is not exactly high praise—historically, the sub-genre has an extremely low bar for intelligent storytelling—but that's a good place to begin describing Would You Rather, which has a premise and sense of style that wouldn't be out of place in a vintage Hammer Horror or Roger Corman production. That is, it's most definitely a B-grade independent horror exercise, but it works well within its limitations and delivers at least a few strong moments of squirm-in-your-seat discomfort.
Sasha Grey figures prominently in the film's marketing—a cynic might call this stunt-casting for the sake of exposure, let's say—but the real lead is Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect), who plays the college-aged Iris, returning home to care for her younger brother, Raleigh (Logan Miller), who's suffering from leukemia and in dire need of a bone marrow transplant. Their parents are out of the picture—presumably dead, though the film never fully explains—and between medical treatments and everyday expenses, the two siblings are having trouble making ends meet. The specter of hope appears when Raleigh's doctor introduces Iris to Shepard Lambrick (Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs), a pistachio-munching philanthropist who invites her to a dinner party which, he vaguely explains, will "culminate with a game of sorts." The winner will be "taken care of; bills, school, house, everything." What's more, if Iris wins, Lambrick promises to instantly move her brother to the top of the donor list.
Apparently, Iris has never heard the phrase "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," because she agrees to attend and shows up at 8pm in the grand mahogany-covered foyer of Lambrick's estate to meet her fellow "contestants": The friendly Lucas (Enver Gjokaj) and Cal (Eddie Steeples), who have been flown in from other states. Travis (Charlie Hofheimer), an Iraq war veteran with a "thousand-yard stare." Linda (June Squibb), an elderly woman paralyzed from the waist down. Conway (John Heard), an ex-alcoholic conspiracy theorist wary of Lambrick's intent. Peter (Rob Wells), a high stakes gambler gone broke. And finally, the stone-cold Amy (Grey), who makes it immediately clear that she's not there to make friends, but to win. Lambrick's weasely son, Julian (Robin Taylor), also has a seat at the dinner table, leering and grinning and all-too-anxious for the festivities to begin.
The setup is pure House on Haunted Hill—an eccentric millionaire invites a diverse group of strangers to survive a night in his mansion—but instead of the supernatural, the contestants here will be facing off against one another and their own moral intuitions. The film's tagline might as well be "Anyone Can Be Bought," as Lambrick quickly offers the vegetarian Iris$10,000 if she'll eat a steak, and $50,000 to Conway if he'll disregard sixteen years of sobriety and down an entire bottle of Scotch. And the game hasn't even properly started at this point.
After one contestant's attempt to leave leads to gunshots and the tacit understanding that the players are now being held against their will, Lambrick's butler wheels out an electroshock device to be used in round one of "Would You Rather." In this first case, the question is: Would you rather administer a jolt to yourself, or send the current through the body of your neighbor at the table? Successive rounds up the ante considerably—an icepick and a sjambok African whipping staff come into play—until the remaining characters arrive at the "sudden death" portion of the game, where the tortures reach an apex of no, no, please no awfulness.
Between the quick-formed alliances, the back-stabbing, and the inevitable every-man-for-himself ultimatums, there's maybe a bit of social commentary on reality TV here, with the filmmakers gleefully bringing to life what is essentially a thought experiment—a grisly one, admittedly—from a 101-level ethics class. Would You Rather is all about moral choices under duress, putting characters in a situation where the absolutes that govern their own senses of "right" and "wrong" are progressively chiseled away. Of course, the characters themselves are of core importance because —as with any movie based on a thought experiment—if they don't seem real, if we don't buy the decisions they make or don't feel that they have good reasons to act the way they do, the whole enterprise risks becoming clinical and abstract. And that's Would You Rather's main shortcoming; it skimps on character detail, too eager to get straight to the killing. With the possible exception of Iris—and even she is thinly written— its characters are one-dimensional ciphers. We don't know enough about them to see them as anything but figures in a textbook exercise.
Not that that really matters, you might say, and to some extent, you'd be right. Levy and Schlachtenhaufen are less interested in in real psychological insight than they are in winding up their high-concept plot and letting it play out in cruel, watch-like precision. The tension is the main draw, and it's thicker than thick. With thirty seconds for the characters to make up their minds—Lambrick even uses an old, loudly ticking timer—each decision is a nail-biting, what's gonna happen next wait for pain. The film certainly isn't bloodless, but Levy does often cuts away where others might linger on the gore, and the film is probably better for it. That said, he did miss one hell of a chance to do a killer Un Chien Andalou, razor-through-the-eyeball homage, and that is a little disappointing.
Not disappointing? Jeffrey Combs' borderline camp, arch-villainous performance, which gives the movie far more comedy than you might expect. The other players are dozing through the terrified motions, but Coombs goes full-tilt diabolical, looking like an evil Ernest Hemingway and behaving with a deranged flourish, suggesting a man of old-money tastes who's gone decidedly off his nut.
Would You Rather Blu-ray, Video Quality
Would You Rather was shot digitally with one of the Red cameras—I think I remember hearing from the commentary that they used the Red Epic—and the footage translates easily into a 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray presentation. The image is a little noisier and softer than a lot of films I've seen shot with the Red, but this can probably be chalked up to the almost entirely indoor shoot and the lenses used. Still, the level of clarity is far more than adequate, with a strong degree of fine facial and clothing detail visible in closeups. The color grading is consistent too, with balanced contrast —no blown out highlights or crushed shadows—and good saturation. There are no overbearing compression issues, and the picture is untouched by DNR, obvious edge enhancement, or other types of heavy filtering. Not necessarily impressive, but a very watchable high definition image.
Would You Rather Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The disc includes two audio options, a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 stereo mix-down. Both will suit your needs, but if you've got a decent home theater, you might as well go with the multi-channel mix. There's not a lot of rear-speaker engagement here, but you will hear some ambience and occasional effects, especially once "the game" really gets going. The film's score sounds good, and fills out the otherwise quiet track with lots of ominous electronic sounds plus some interesting analog instrumentation, like a creepy harpsichord cue that plinks into the mix at one point. The real focus here is on the dialogue, which is always clear and easily understood. The disc includes English SDH and Spanish subtitles, which appear in yellow lettering.
Would You Rather Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Would You Rather Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Would You Rather has pretensions to escape the torture-porn tag, and it nearly does it, with a psychological thought experiment of a premise that's smarter than the genre's usual setups. Poor character developments holds the film back—and the ending goes one step further than necessary to leave us feeling uneasy—but this is still a fun low-budget horror experiment, led Jeffrey Combs' alternately campy and terrifying performance. The film's Blu-ray release is nothing special—the included audio commentary is one of the dullest I've heard in a while—but the movie is worth checking out one way or another if you're inclined to enjoy indie thrillers.
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Would You Rather Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Would You Rather - July 3, 2013
Blu-ray.com and IFC Films are offering three members a chance to win a copy of director David Guy Levy's Would You Rather, starring Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Sasha Grey, and Jonny Coyne. The horror thriller streets on July 9th.
• Would You Rather Blu-ray - June 3, 2013
IFC Films has officially announced that it will release on Blu-ray director David Guy Levy's horror thriller Would You Rather (2012), starring Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Sasha Grey, and Jonny Coyne. The release will be available online and in stores across the ...
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