Lately I’ve been noticing a number of horror/thriller movies that revolve around sadistic aristocrats hosting cruel and often demeaning games played by average Joes bogged down in debt. The reward, of course, is always a sum of money large enough to eradicate any and all monetary issues one had prior to playing. However, as many taglines probably say, the price contestants pay to win is greater than the sum they earn. That’s the point of Would You Rather: To watch an assortment of poor folk struggle against each other and their hosts in order to make all their problems go away.
Would You Rather? focuses on the story of Iris (Brittany Snow) and her leukemia-riddled brother Lucas (Enver Gjokaj). While discussing the nonstop barrage of expensive treatment for brother dear with the good Doctor Barden (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), the generous Mr. Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs) steps in and offers her an opportunity to make all the money she’ll ever need, as well as find a bone marrow donor for Lucas. All she must do to earn it is play a game, and after her initial skepticism is assuaged by Mr. Lambrick, she agrees to meet him at his estate.
The remainder of the cast is introduced at Lambrick manor, consisting of Shepard’s sadistic son Julian (Robin Lord Taylor), his equally sadistic former special agent butler Bevans (Johnny Coyne), Bevans’s staff, and a motley crew of people deep enough in debt to have a collectively large threshold for abuse. Abuse that includes making Iris, a vegetarian, eat a piece of foie gras for ten thousand dollars, and Conway, the recovering alcoholic, imbibe in a bottle of scotch for fifty thousand. Unfortunately for them, the game has yet to start, and those quaint payoffs are little but distractions. The real game consists of electrocution, whipping, drowning, eye-slicing (as per the box art), and other assorted party-friendly activities, all intended to reduce the player population to one.
The progression of the game is rather linear, save for one ambiguous interruption by Dr. Barden. His experience with Lambrick’s game comes to light, along with his apparent distaste for the torment involved. Whether or not he manages to sway the game’s outcome will remain unmentioned, of course, though the movie remains almost comically grim through to the twisted conclusion. You will like the ending, even if you don’t care for the perfunctory mid-game dialogue.
Nathan Rabin of AV Club found Would You Rather’s protagonist tropey and uninspired, the torture scenes dull, and Sasha Grey’s performance comparable to that of a wet paper towel. Frankly, she was only as good as her lines, and being cast as a living PSA for “there’s nothing we can do” favored her nothin’. But hey, Jeffery Combs rocked as much of the movie as he could, and depending on how much you enjoy the end, you may well consider the movie salvaged. Check out the AV Club review here.