Crash Analysis: WOULD YOU RATHER (2012)

Yes, I would

New twist on an old theme is definitely a good thing…  would-you-rather

We’ve seen films like WOULD YOU RATHER before: People trapped in a house of horror and doing everything possible to get out. So why watch it again? Because screenwriter Steffen Schlachtenhaufen and director David Guy Levy brought us atmosphere, tension, and suspense on a grand scale, and because Jeffrey Comb’s character Shepard Lambrick is one of the best bastards to come to the screen in a long damn time.

Our woman to watch in WOULD YOU RATHER is Iris, played wonderfully by Brittney Snow, a young blonde who forgoes college to come back home and take care of her ailing brother after the death of her parents. The problem is that mom and dad left little to no money behind, and her brother is in need of a costly bone marrow transplant. But there’s hope, Dr. Barden (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) introduces her to wealthy Mr. Lambrick – and all Iris needs to do is attend a dinner with the man, and other guests, where one person will walk away with all they could possibly need to sustain them. After all, Dr. Barden knows this first hand since he was a former participant. Though skeptical, Iris has no job prospects, and no way out. The old beggars can’t be choosers saying looms large, and she agrees. Soon, she finds herself trapped at a dinner table with other desperate guests.

What happens next is what sets WOULD YOU RATHER apart from its thematic kin. First and foremost is Lambrick. He’s the equivalent of a wealthy used car salesman. He knows how to act in public, but only to a degree, and his sense of decorum revolves around serving his own end. For instance, when Iris first meets him in Dr. Barden’s office, he’s in the shadows eating nuts and spitting the shells on a couch. He sports a smartass, “I’m better than you” sideways smile due to his bank account, but wears a suit of questionable quality. This doesn’t matter because his arrogance seems to be all that sustain him. The stellar acting of Jeffrey Combs brings Lambrick to us as a human bastard you love to hate. Yet, Lambrick is far from a caricature. One can see a wealthy person embracing their own self worth to feel they’re entitled to control the poor personas below them. Think the fascist scum in Pasolini’s SALO (Italy, 1975) or the real life horrors perpetuated upon captured women by the serial rape, torture, and kill duo of Leonard Lake and Charles Ng. The false notion of privilege had ravaged all of them.

Lambrick, however, justifies why he offers his dinner guests a horrific twist on the old “Would You Rather” game, such as, would you rather be electrocuted or electrocute your neighbor? After all, these people need money to solve their own nightmares. They are beggars. And he treats them like geeks (a performer who does disgusting or degrading feats for money). At times, even Lambrick’s surprised by what the invitees do as if he’s conducting a bizarre social experiment. Regardless, if you want his money, you have to perform because there is no such thing as money for nothing.

What many people seem to dislike about the movie is the lack of character development. We follow Iris, our eye to all events. We know she’s duty bound and loves her brother, and is willing to put her life on hold to give him what he needs. She’s what her parents may have called a “good girl,” and she holds no ill will towards others. We also know Lambrick, the man with the cash who will give you what you need if you dance for him.

When Iris finally makes it to Lambrick’s house, she’s the last guest to arrive. She meets Cal (Eddie Steeples) and Lucas (Enver Gjokaj), but learns little of them. There’s an older woman in a wheelchair, a pseudo-Goth girl with “bitch” written all over her, a bad gambler, a young war vet with PTSD, and a business exec. Like Iris, we know what she knows, which is very little. And once dinner begins, we have to pick out what we can about the others. But we don’t need to know a damn thing. After all, if you were sitting at that table, would you want to know about them? Each person is down on their luck and needs cash. Maybe they’re trying to save themselves or someone else, but they’re the competition for Lambrick’s grand prize of “you won’t have to worry about a damn thing” if you win his little game. Imagine each person telling their sad story – and how that would mess with your head from wanting to play. And the best thing is that no one comprehends, until it’s too last, of course, that Lambrick’s game is deadly to the point of “and then there was one.”

Schlachtenhaufen’s tale certainly makes one question what he or she would or wouldn’t do in this situation, though the bigger question is this: Is life so bad that one would succumb to having dinner with a stranger and compete for cash? Like any great piece of fiction, moral questions rise, which should keep the audience thinking long after the movie’s over, and WOULD YOU RATHER is certainly haunting.

Where the reliable Combs delivers a knock-out performance, along with the emotional adept Gjokaj, Robb Wells falters on occasion, and Sasha Grey can’t seem to play a natural predator. I only wish we had a chance to see more from Steeples along with veteran great, John Heard. Story-wise, some deaths may seem to come a bit rapidly, though fans can jump in with a character or two bled out due to the compromise of a major artery. But that’s it. Even the ending is as solid as it is satisfactory. Yes, you can see it coming, but for me, it was more of a pleading, “you have to end it this way” mantra until it actually happened. I even sighed in relief when it was all over.

WOULD YOU RATHER racks up the tension and will keep you glued to the action. After all, Levy makes certain we have a seat at the table, and cinematographer Steven Capitano Calitri makes certain we don’t move with a camera that never quits and keeps us engaged.

Now, WOULD YOU RATHER watch this wonderful low-budget surprise, or waste your money on the usual horror garbage that brings nothing new to the table? You have fifteen seconds to decide…

Others in this horror subgenre to watch: THE COLLECTOR (UK, 1965), MY LITTLE EYE (2002), HOUSE OF 9 (2005), MARTYRS (France/Canada, 2008), THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (Netherlands, 2009), and THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Spain, 2011).

4 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Obnoxious and Anonymous.)

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