Would You Rather (2013)

If, like me, you regularly watch the cooking competition/bitchfest that is Come Dine With Me, but often find yourself wishing the stakes were just a little bit higher, then Would You Rather might just be for you.

The premise of the film is quite original; a group of strangers, from varying backgrounds, all of whom are particularly down on their luck, agree to take part in a dinner party game, thrown by the brilliantly-named, wealthy eccentric, Shepard Lambrick (played by The Frighteners’, Jeffrey Combs). The heroine of the piece is Iris (Brittany Snow), a tough young woman, who is struggling to care for her terminally ill brother. She accepts an invitation to the party in the hope that all of her financial woes will be sorted once she “wins” the titular game.

But it quickly becomes apparent, during a drawn out but effectively unsettling first challenge, that the game will be much more high risk than usual, as participants are forced to, among other things, stab each other, and risk drowning themselves in a barrel of water. The tension is palpable throughout, as watching the film almost feels like being part of the game itself. It’s a difficult experience, but incredibly involving, also.

Would You Rather would be in danger of being a bit torture porn-esque and repetitive, if it weren’t for Lambrick, who injects some much-needed humour into the otherwise gloomy proceedings. In less capable hands, his role could’ve been relegated to little more than a caricature, but Combs knows exactly how to play it, somehow managing to mix complete evil with a madness that borders on the ridiculous, but also makes him strangely likeable.

Lambrick laughs maniacally throughout the proceedings, commenting hilariously every now and then to his sadistic butler, Bevans (no, really), for example, when he scoffs “We’re playing a game” in response to an elderly woman’s need for urgent medical attention.

Without Combs the film wouldn’t quite work, as Snow, a more than capable actress, is quite drippy in the role of Iris, in spite of the fact that she is quite obviously being set up as the ‘Final Girl’. Though the situation is indeed dire, it’s irritating to have Iris constantly weeping throughout the game, especially when she’s an otherwise strong woman who accepts each challenge remarkably well, in spite of the odds against her.

The story is fleshed out via flashbacks, which wouldn’t usually work, but given the fact that most of the action takes place in a dining room, they serve to make the world of the film slightly more three-dimensional. It’s supposed to feel suffocating, claustrophobic and helpless, and for the most part, it does, but it’s easier to empathise with Iris once we get a glimpse of her daily struggle. One of the strangest elements of Would You Rather is the inclusion of ex-porn star turned actress, Sasha Grey. Unfortunately, her reputation precedes her, and she somehow manages to overact, even when she has virtually no dialogue to deliver. However, when she does speak, Grey alternates between sounding like a normal human being, and Miley Cyrus on crack.

There are literally moments when she forgets that she’s supposed to have a Southern accent, and others where everything she says is over-pronounced. If you’re not impatiently awaiting her death for every second she’s onscreen, trying to look menacing with her emo fringe constantly in her eyes, I applaud you.

Would You Rather is an inventive slice of impressively nasty horror madness, in which it is easy to lose yourself. The leads are strong, the tension palpable, and the threat real and, at times, stomach-churningly horrible. Combs and Snow are equal parts lunatic miscreant and desperate saint, giving us someone to root for and hate, depending on the current mood.

However, much like the game itself, Would You Rather is a slightly unsatisfying experience. The tension is built effectively throughout, with a decently spooky, yet slightly intrusive, score running underneath everything, and the dining room is a perfectly claustrophobic setting. But, it becomes apparent about halfway through that there is really only one plausible outcome, and the attempt at a shock in the last few minutes is jarring. This is easily one of the most interesting and unique horror films in recent years, and thankfully, there are no falling plates or severed limbs to dilute the rather unique, quite terrifying, premise. Its “shock” ending is somewhat annoying, but thankfully doesn’t detract from what’s come before.

Would You Rather is a tense, gruelling experience, with enough shocks to keep even the most seasoned fans guessing, and a few laughs to alleviate it from being too much of a downer. A must-see, especially for those who want something a bit smarter than the usual fare.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

2 Comments on “Would You Rather”

  1. Mark Pidgeon says:

    Going to check this out, sounds right up my alley cheers for bringing it to light as this had escaped me.

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