In theory, “Would You Rather,” should be terrible. It should be ugly, flat and poorly executed. The pain inflicted upon its characters should prove no match when compared to the torture endured by its audience. However, against all odds, it does many things correctly and ultimately avoids what should have been an unavoidable fate.
The film follows a young woman, Iris (Brittany Snow), who’s struggling to care for her sick brother Raleigh (Logan Miller). In the face of unaffordable leukemia treatment costs, Iris is oddly propositioned while at the doctor’s office (no, not like that) by a mysterious man named Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs). The aristocrat’s offer to pay for her brother’s treatment if she participates in, and wins, an unsaid game is what we’ve come to call “a deal one can’t refuse.” Iris reaffirms this notion by taking the man up on said proposal and the movie’s premise is subsequently set. The location as well as key players are introduced along with the rules of the game (aptly titled “would you rather”) and we watch as the characters are forced to make high-pressured, critical decisions that directly and gruesomely affect one another’s physical wellbeing.
In all its familiarity, “Would You Rather” is still effective at creating a great deal of suspense as well as its fair share of “clock-ticking” intensity. It is not a highbrow affair, nor does it pretend to be. It is a low budget, single-location horror film centered on a deadly game, beginning with eight contestants and ending with one.
Acknowledging “Would You Rather” for what it is will allow you to enjoy in the sadistic smorgasbord of brutal setups and payoffs strung together by a comically-campy performance by Combs as Lambrick aka the game’s host. Known for his role as the smarmy doctor in “Re-Animator,” Combs really amps up his game with the elitist Lambrick, delivering every single line with utmost enthusiasm and single-handedly maintaining the film’s linchpin facetious tone. None of the other cast stood out as exemplary, although some stick out for other reasons (cough, cough Sasha Grey).
“Would You Rather” is a success if you’ll just let it be. It delivers everything we’ve come to expect from a film of this type and most times does it well. The script, written by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen, doesn’t bog us down with unwanted, boring setup or exposition and instead opts to give us what we want by getting us straight to the game. It raises the stakes appropriately and delivers some sick, twisted situations that include ice picks, firecrackers and razor blades… the latter calling back the infamous scene from Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou.” The film, directed by David Guy Levy, does not rely too much on visual gore and often chooses instead to focus on “the moment before the moment” for its tension-building impact. Strong-arming its characters to deliver results, “Would You Rather” delivers shockers on more than one occasion, the final twist not withholding.