Every year, Mr. Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs; Re-Animator) hosts an event at his home. The eccentric billionaire invites 8 hand-chosen, unrelated people to dinner with the promise of a game, and the idea that the winner will receive a substantial amount of money – presumably enough to set them up for life. The game in question is “Would You Rather,” where players are given a choice between two equally unattractive actions. And since this is a horror movie, you can imagine that each of the choices involve the characters either getting hurt or being forced to hurt someone else.
The film follows Iris (Brittany Snow; Pitch Perfect), who has recently lost both of her parents in an accident and is left to take care of her brother (Logan Miller), who is dying due to some sort of organ failure and needs a transplant. Problem is the family has no insurance, and Iris is finding it difficult to find even a basic job. Desperate, she accepts Lambrick’s vague invitation and is soon locked into a room being forced to decide whether she should give herself an electric shock, or shock one of the other guests.
The entire cast is pretty good. Snow does a good job of being or “Alice” in this wonderland, while Lambrick’s eccentricities offer a genuine creepiness alongside some humorous moments. When we’re introduced to the rest of the guests, some familiar faces immediately jump out including John Heard (Home Alone), Eddie Steeples (My Name is Earl), and Enver Gjokaj (Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse). You might also see Sasha Grey’s name in the opening credits and think to yourself, “Huh, guess this is going to have nudity.” The former porn star takes another dive into the mainstream here after previous ventures with HBO’s Entourage, Gus Van Sant’s The Girlfriend Experience, and You Melt With Me, which is a fantastic film that you may have never heard of starring Rob Lowe and Jeremy Piven. This is the first film I’ve seen with Grey where she doesn’t take her clothes off, making me think she’s trying to take roles that will move her toward a more respectable/serious reputation. I don’t know if she has the acting skills to pull off a mainstream career. She’s exotic, and definitely has a watchable quality, but I doubt she’ll be remembered. Here, Grey plays a rather cold blooded player in Lambrick’s game, realizing very soon that working together with the other players is meaningless because only one person can win. The others are eliminated; either through their chosen task, or by a bullet to the head for refusing to choose.
The only other main characters are Lambrick’s son Julian (Robin Taylor), and the house butler Bevans (Jonny Coyne). Julian is a very one-note character, who seems to look forward to taking over his father’s game someday, but in a much more obvious, serial killer way than Lambrick. Bevans is former MI-5 and delights in aiding Mr. Lambrick in his game when he’s not serving wine. The relationship between Lambrick and Bevans is the chief source of humor in the film, like at one point Iris is given a choice between being held under water for 2 minutes, or accepting a secret fate written in an envelope in front of her. She chooses the barrel and it turns out the card would have called for her to have all her teeth extracted. Lambrick apologizes to Bevans for the missed opportunity and assures him that maybe he’ll get the chance to pull someone’s teeth next year.
I wish the structure of the film were more varied. With all the choices revolving around the idea of hurting or being hurt, it makes the film a bit repetitive. Sure, the filmmakers are imaginative in the various ways the characters are tortured both physically and mentally, but there is still something very boring about how the film is presented, even if the content itself is rarely boring.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I don’t know if I buy the twist in the end. I definitely didn’t see it coming, and I love the tragic irony it gives to the rest of the film, but it doesn’t feel believable to the characters involved. I won’t give it away, or even hint at it. Just a final thought to end this review.
Special features include a feature length commentary with the writer and director, as well as the trailer, and a poster gallery. Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from IFC Films.