Would You Rather
Dir. David Guy Levy (2012)
A rich family hosts a game of "would you rather" with a group of desperate people looking for a life-changing sum of money.
You ever have that horror movie that just comes out of nowhere, one that you just kinda turn on randomly and it completely blows you away? As a superfan of disturbing horror, Would You Rather was totally that movie for me, a film that I found exceptionally well done and incredibly disturbing. It's easy to see why, with Jeffrey Combs' and Robin Lord Taylor's unhinged performances, but it says a lot about the filmmaking prowess of director David Guy Levy that he managed to make a film that is able to freak you out without having to resort to over-the-top blood or gore as well.
The film is about a young woman named Iris (Brittany Snow) who has to take care of her ill brother after the death of her parents. She is struggling to find a job or a way out of their financial situation, so she begrudgingly jumps at the chance when Shepard Lambrick (Combs) tells her about a game that his family is hosting. He promises her a life-changing amount of money, paying off her house, her bills, and potentially providing free medical care that can save her brother's life and end their struggles once and for all. Of course, as with any movie like this, the game is a lot more dangerous than it first appears, a game of Would You Rather that escalates to more and more dangerous choices in its attempt to eliminate the players one by one.
There's something so unsettling about a game like this, put on solely for the entertainment of a rich family with nothing better to do. Forcing people to undergo horrific punishments, from holding a firecracker in their hand to stabbing someone else in the leg with a knife, is sadistic and cruel, a depiction that is executed flawlessly by Combs and Taylor. While Combs delivers his performance with a bit of ham and even more exaggeration, Taylor comes across like a complete psychopath, and it's easy to see why they tapped him for Oswald Cobblepot in the Gotham series. Brittany Snow does a fantastic job as the sister who will do anything for her brother, and given the film's catastrophic ending, it's all the more brutal and heartless.
And that's really what makes this movie what it is: it's cruel and it's mean-spirited, and while that's something that turns a lot of people off, I appreciate that Levy was willing to go as far as he was. By really minimizing the blood and not showing some of the more brutal aspects of the film, it prevents any strikes against realism and makes the whole thing feel like something that could actually be happening at the big, fancy house on the corner. The film feels like it should be exploring the limits that people will go to change their lives, but Combs and Taylor's roles make it about the things that rich people can do to others and the way that they look down on them simply because of their wealth. It's disgusting, but it feels more and more realistic by the day with the inequalities that are seemingly constantly getting worse.
I've seen this movie a handful of times now and recommend it as often as I can. It's really a fantastic low-budget indie film that has escaped so many people's attention, and it's a shame because it's a damn good film. There's a bit of exposition that feels forced, some of the actors are a bit hammy, but there are so many recognizable faces that it makes for an entertaining watch regardless: there's Eddie Steeples (Crabman from My Name is Earl), Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (The Wire), Robb Wells (Trailer Park Boys), John Heard (the dad from Home Alone), Sasha Grey (*Ahem*), and of course Combs, Taylor, and Snow as well. It's an incredibly impressive cast of mostly bit actors, and all of them work perfectly within the scope of the film.
With an indie film, you're never really expecting super high production values, and you largely won't find them here. The actors are all good enough in their roles, but of course there are no world-changing performances. It's a little campy, perhaps even moreso than it should be at times, but it all works to give the film an even more disturbing feel to it. Maybe it's just that I can imagine this sort of thing happening, maybe it's because it seems to outwardly cruel, but there's something about this movie that just sticks in my craw and makes me hate people just a little bit more. And you really can't ask for much more than that.
Who this movie is for: Indie horror fans, Cruel horror lovers, Decisionmakers
Bottom line: Would You Rather is almost completely gore-free but makes an emotional and mental impact in a huge way. With excellent performances from Jeffrey Combs, Robin Lord Taylor, and Brittany Snow, it's a super-fun movie that you'll find yourself thinking about long after watching. If you're a fan of psychological horror that puts its characters in impossible situations, I highly recommend giving this one a shot. I dug it, and you will too.