Iris (Brittany Snow) has returned home to take care of her sick younger brother after the death of their parents, but while her heart is in the right place it’s a place without a bank balance. When she’s introduced to a businessman named Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs) who offers to solve all of their financial concerns if she comes to a special dinner party, plays a little game and walks away the winner, she’s forced to wonder how far she’ll go to salvage and save what’s left of her family.
That’s how most charitable foundations work right?
There are eight contestants, and since it’s a game of elimination it should surprise no one that there are nine kills. Wait, what?
Head shot, bloody back from whippings, exploding hands, razor-sliced eyeballs and more.
No sex or nudity, but Sasha Grey sits in a chair all scowling and sexy-like.
If it seems too good to be true it’s most likely an elaborate ruse orchestrated by a sadistic millionaire.
Iris reluctantly agrees to the invitation but asks almost no questions of her host or the game itself. For all she knows they could be expecting her to wrestle topless or eat a bowl of camel semen soup. She arrives at Lambrick’s mansion along with seven others and discovers her first challenge is along the lines of the latter. A vegetarian for many years, she’s offered $10k to eat a steak… which she does, again, with little to no protest. And just like that the game of ‘Would You Rather’ has begun.
The ground rules are set fairly quickly as the players learn the hard way that their presence has committed them through the end of the game. The point is driven home when one of them tries to exit early and is shot through the head. Strongly compelled to continue, the dinner guests are one by one forced to choose between electrically shocking themselves or their neighbor, whipping someone or stabbing someone else, and so on… with the intensity and brutality escalating as the evening progresses.
Iris’ fellow players have all found themselves there for similar reasons as they’re all in desperate need of money. Some of the faces are familiar including John Heard as an alcoholic with a gambling debt, Sasha Grey as a tough-as-nails bitch and Enver Gjokaj (Dexter, Dollhouse) as a seemingly nice guy in over his head. Lambrick’s support team includes a bevy of beefy armed guards, an ex-SAS manservant named Bevans (Jonny Coyne) and a son (Robin Taylor) who’s even more twisted than his old man.
Most everyone does fine with the material, but its Combs who stands out as the deliriously demented madman behind it all. He’s having a ton of fun as the elitist snob deigning to help the unwashed provided they offer up some entertainment. He remains best known from his work in Re-Animator, although my favorite performance of his remains The Frighteners, and his work here is as close as he’s been to that level in years. His enthusiasm is contagious and will easily be shared by viewers (more so than by his dinner guests).
Director David Guy Levy and writer Steffen Schlachtenhaufen haven’t really thought outside the box with their plot here as the setup is familiar to fans of horror and thriller films, but they manage it a bit more competently than some of their counterparts. Many of the actions and reactions feel genuine enough, and they wisely prevent the film from ever approaching torture porn territory. The violent acts are never excessively bloody, and the cruelty is more about seeing what people would do to themselves or others in the situation. The script and Combs’ performance bring a bit of black comedy to the proceedings too.
While it excels at and around the dinner table, the film and its script falter whenever we step away. A minor subplot involving a doctor feels like filler, the unavoidable logic of the outside world is ignored and the ending makes a stab at something that doesn’t necessarily jive with what came before. And a scene where Lambrick says Iris is a perfect candidate because she has no family and no one would miss her seems to be forgetting, you know, her brother who she’s doing this for in the first place.
Would You Rather would have benefited from a tighter script and a stronger lead actress, but as it stands the film remains an entertaining enough thriller elevated by a fantastically fun performance by Combs. It’s a fairly sleek little film too that gets into the action quickly and maintains interest by doling out events at a solid pace. If you have the opportunity to see this the choice should be obvious. Or not.
Would You Rather opens today in limited theatrical release and on VOD