Splatter-style captivity and survival film from Giles Alderson, which has a decent plot linking present and past, and effective tension and effects.
Jay doesn’t spend enough time with his wife and kids, and he starts to wonder if he’s had all the time he’s going to get when he wakes up in a grimy basement dungeon with three other captives, one seriously wounded. The Dare introduces a new masked villain whose apparent goal is to “let the evil out” from these unfortunate souls. As the four prisoners piece together clues as to why they are there, and attempt to figure out a way out, we are given flashbacks to the dare that forms their backstory, as well as their captor’s potted history.
The four prisoners – three men and one woman – are fairly nondescript. The new arrival Jay (Bart Edwards, The Witcher) claims he’s a “good person” and cannot imagine what he has done to deserve imprisonment and the torture he is anticipating. Kat (Alexandra Evans, Silent Witness) and Adam (Richard Short, Mary Kills People) have both been there a bit longer and know by now that there’s no use resisting. They’re pretty mouthy in comparison to the fourth captive, Paul (Daniel Schutzmann, Footballers’ Wives), who has his mouth sewn shut. Their tormentor (Robert Maaser, Alles was zählt) doesn’t say much either, but he has an impressive presence, and his mental turmoil is evident once his mask comes off. The Dare shows us other perspectives on all these people via the flashbacks, which is where the plot and its themes really emerge; not to mention the other pivotal character, Credence (Richard Brake, Absentia, 3 from Hell).
If you are someone who will be inclined to think about the themes in an extreme horror film, this one is all about what children grow up to become, and what they might be responsible for. It actually is a decent plot… but despite that, The Dare is really all about the shocks. All four prisoners are put through some vicious ordeals – some more than others – and although we aren’t shown many of them explicitly, they are still mighty difficult to watch because we know exactly what’s happening and can imagine exactly how they feel, physically and emotionally. I shan’t tell you what happens of course, except for a few words to give you an idea: slice, cockroach, eye, spiders, nails. Yes, this is a modern splatter film, intended to make you squirm more than think.
The tense and desperate atmosphere is excellent, aided by Mario Grigorov’s intense soundtrack, which would fit well in a bloody video game. The gore effects too are very well done (bar a few minor CGI moments) and had me shrinking away a few times.
I never expect extreme horror films to be plausible as such, so I’m not going to complain about the far-fetched plot. The main issues I had with the film were the pacing and lack of build-up. Many successful violent films – and indeed games – build up their set-pieces steadily so that although the viewer can see things are bad, they wonder with each scene how much further the twisted writer is going to go. In The Dare, the torture inflicted varies so much that no one assault is any worse than another. Alternating from present-day to two strands of characters’ history also interrupts the flow, so that although the film is suitably tense and gruesome it is not allowed to become exciting.
The Dare is directed and co-written by Giles Alderson; and even though it’s an utterly different style of film, The Dare is a much better one than his other recent title, Arthur & Merlin: Knights of Camelot, which shares with this film a co-writer (Jonny Grant), cinematographer (Andrew Rodger) and three actors (Richard Brake, Richard Short, and Daniel Schutzmann). It has a much more cohesive story, better acting, and intriguing characters (once we get to know them a little). I’m glad to see any filmmaker demonstrating breadth and variety, though I’d rather watch more Alderson films like The Dare than like Arthur.
The Dare is on Digital Download 5 October and DVD 12 October from Lionsgate UK
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.