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August 10, 2013

Movie Review: Would You Rather...? (2012, IFC Midnight)

...well, well, well...what do we have here, ladies and gentlemen?? How so very interesting that the last time we amassed together here, to waxrapsonic about a movie involving a wound-up, ticking time clock, actor Mark Hamill, adorned in a most eccentric sort of character, was sadistically torturing a fellow crime cohort for information, with the sharpened lead stinger of a number two pencil (...see previous review of "Sushi Girl"). Yet, here we all are gathered, once again...with yet another rusty old time clock, relentlessly ticking away...and yet another game of uncompromising brutality and sadism. And a question for you fine folks, out there...oh, yes...a most intriguing question to be posed in this gathered arena. Just how far would you be willing to go...what would you be willing to much would you be willing to far would you be willing to compromise your most unswervingly and steadfast convictions...for money?? This is the rather intriguing...wholly guard-lowering...and potentially fatal query afforded to several willing, albeit curious 'contestants', in the midst of what gradually progress into a painfully unrelenting exercise in human truths, values and vulnerability...a truly sadistic and torturous game to be played here, called "Would You Rather...??"...

...Iris (Brittany Snow), having recently recovered from the death of her parents, and is now heavily burdened...financially, as well as emotionally...with having to care for her invalid brother, who is suffering the painful agonies of leukemia, accepts a most bizarre, albeit compelling dinner invitation from wealthy and eccentric aristocrat & philanthropist, Shepard Lambrick (Jeffery Combs), with the understanding that after the dinner, a game of sorts would commence, and the winner of said game would be financially taken care of, for life. Having arrived at the Lambrick estate, for the dinner party, Iris finds herself in the midst of several random individuals...all from different walks of life, and with different motivations, financially. Once gathered around the dinner table, Lambrick steps in, introduces himself & his darkly sinister-looking valets, and vaguely describes the planned 'festivities' of the evening; during the lavish dinner, the shape of things to come are subtly hinted at, when Lambrick teases and tauntingly, outright demands of two of the evening's guests, to compromise themselves, in the presence of an ever-increasing promised pile of money, set before each of them...with seemingly maniacal Lambrick, laughingly suggesting that without exception, everyone has a price... the dinner comes to a rather nervously relevating close, Lambrick hastily, albeit sternly reveals the rules of the proposed game: Once the game commences, no one leaves...Anyone attempting to leave during the game, will be 'severely dealt with'...Participants WILL engage the game, and make their decisions in a snap-timely manner (...hence, the timer), or else will be similarly 'dealt with'...and participants WILL participate, until only one player remains, to claim the prize. Shudderingly acknowledging these rules, the instilled tension gives way to absolute shock and terror, when one of the participants DOES try to escape...and is summarily & brutally executed, right on the spot. And when the first round of the game is announced, with the introduction of a roll-away electrical shock contraption, with two of the contestants are wired up, and one of the wired participants is shakily afforded a choice of two power buttons...'either electrocute yourself, or electrocute the person across from you' becomes perfectly clear that this is a game of diabolically torturous proportions...a game that becomes all the more unflinchingly gruesome, deadly and diabolical, as each uniquely different and variant round is played ( of the rounds suggested to this viewer, a sick & twisted version of "Let's Make a Deal", with it's alternate 'known/unknown' variant)...and each of the players are 'eliminated', one by one...Who amongst these hapless players, will win this sadistically lethal game, and what will become of the victor...or better stated, what will be left of the victor, upon finishing this most horrific gameplay... the film's onset, a very contrived opening set-up, not that far removed from countless genre-cinematic variations in the past, and even on a whole, the proceedings herein seem rather well-trod & predictable, what with the obvious touches of 'Saw' and 'Hostel', fettered throughout, as well as the grim and depressing ending, which might just stick with hapless viewers, well after the final credits' roll. However, unlike those past inspirations, "Would You Rather...??" feels compelled to concentrate more on the unraveling enigma of the situation, the underlining social commentary suggested by the sadistic host of these affairs, as well as the varied & eclectic characters involved, and less focus upon the 'right in your face' gruesomeness, which films like 'Saw' and 'Hostel' are unflinchingly notorious for. For instance, at a certain point, one of the hapless players of this sadistic game, is daringly compelled to slice one of his eyeballs open; we see the blade draw closer to the eyeball, and the aftermath bloodshed of the act. But the actual act itself (...along with many of the other heinously inflicted and disfiguring acts in the film) is well left to the imagination, which makes the overall proceedings all the more unnervingly sinister. Granted, as one might guess, in bearing witness to these gruesome events, things herein could have escalated to a much more outwardly ghastly and bloodied level; ultimately, it all depended upon each character's luck of the draw...or from the viewer's point of view, the film writers' adept prowess, who afford surprising restraint, in these macabre and horrific goings-on (..."...uh, sorry Bevans...maybe next time, huh?"...) of his most relishingly hand-wringing finest roles to date, it is clear that genre favorite Jeffery Combs (..."Re-Animator", "From Beyond", etc.) is having a most devilishly good time here, in his maniacally disturbing and deliciously diabolical dark-humored performance as dinner host Lambrick; his torturous tauntings and 'poke to the stomach' goading verbiage are a delight to watch, and yet, one cannot help but be torn about the character, in that it's indeed a fiendish delight to behold his diabolically deadly manipulations, and yet, one still hopes that his character eventually gets a well-deserved comeuppance. Up & coming actress Brittany Snow also stands out significantly, even amongst fairly seasoned players (...Jonny Coyne, Sasha Gray, John Heard, amongst others), in her initially passive and innocent performance as the determined, albeit tragically burdened Iris, and in engaging this tension-brimming film, it compelling remains to be seen, whether or not her character evolves into something much stronger than how she presents herself in the onset...

...and so, a "Saw"/"Hostel" knock-off?? Eh, a small degree; however, the filmmaker's source-inspired approach to such contrived material, is assuredly much more subtle, and it's keen observations on human nature, not to mention the compellingly engaging character play that ensues, makes this tension-filled, razor-edged excursion into a most maddeningly sadistic level of terror, a most uniquely engaging animal, unto it's own right, and as such, oh-so diabolically delicious to bear witness to. And this enjoyably trite film DOES manage to compel...nay outright dares the viewer to identify with, and pose an equally engaging question; after all, what price would YOU pay, to play this particular game of "Would You Rather...??"...Hmmm??

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