In The Dare, Jay Jackson (Bart Edwards) is a loving family man whose work causes him to spend too much time away from his wife and children. However, when a home invasion leads to Jay being abducted, he awakens in a basement with three other prisoners. As they struggle to escape, their twisted kidnapper continues to torment them with brutal games and dares. With each increasing exercise in darkness, Jay and his cellmates conspire against their captor to escape to the lives from which they’ve been taken.
Written and directed by Gilles Anderson, The Dare is a dark and twisted venture that emphasizes gore over storytelling. Similar to the Saw franchise, Anderson uses the film to feature a series of ‘games’ designed to horrify their audience. Unfortunately though, the story never fully justifies the gore, leaving these characters to suffer with little empathy from the script. While the cast themselves are fine, it’s veteran Richard Brake that is the standout as the villainous Credence. As the epitome of evil, Brake allows his cruel side to run free, creating a character who is both horrendous yet also believes himself to be fully justified.
What Anderson does do well is build atmospheric tension. With its bleak colours and shaded lighting, the outside world contains as little hope within it as the Dare dungeon itself. Every moment that Dominic ventures outside the walls of the home, the bleached and blinding colours provide a menacing brightness that force him back into his captor’s lair. In other words, while we hate the fact that the child remains trapped, Anderson never lets the outside seem inviting, despite its path to freedom and hope.
This is a film that wants to explore what makes a monster. Although we bear witness to the full fury of the mysterious kidnapper on his victims, the film also juxtaposes his brutality with the story of his abusive childhood. With each flashback, we witness another moment where innocence is increasingly lost. (“Let the evil out,” Credence growls at the child.) Twisted by promises of love and acceptance at the hands of violence, Dominic’s journey is a gradual descent into darkness that leaves permanent scars on his soul.
In doing so, however, the film also allows the past to inform the present, offering some complexity to an otherwise black/white situation. Though his actions are horrific, Anderson allows Dominic to be fleshed out a little more than just the ‘bad guy’. To Anderson, these sorts of demons aren’t born into darkness. Instead, they’re created by the pain inflicted upon them by others. (Though, somewhat ironically, the film offers no hint as to where the evil in the abusers stems from.) While the script never absolves him of his crimes, his origin story provides the necessary backstory to make him more human—and make his downfall even more tragic.
In the end, while The Dare has a great deal of potential, it never fully lives up to the game it wants to play. Leaning more into the gore than the story, Anderson offers the graphic violence that he believes that his audience may want. But the truth is that a script lacking any character development (or even playfulness) hold this Dare back from being memorable.
The Dare is available on VOD on Tuesday, June 8th, 2021.