Film Review: Would You Rather

This ultra-nasty conceit should satisfy many a genre fan’s inner sadist.

The very title of this film recalls those childhood games in which you’d pose the challenge of choosing between two equally disgusting activities to a playmate in the interests of a general gross-out, and as a way to mindlessly pass the time. Funnily enough, those two interests are what seem to motivate many a filmgoer these days, and Would You Rather is definitely recommended for those so-minded.

To the home of a notoriously rich and generous philanthropist, Sheppard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs), comes a cadre of disparate souls all in dire need of money. Iris (Brittany Snow), for example, has to come up with the funds for her sick brother’s bone marrow transplant (very “Law & Order”). A nice doctor has recommended that she do this, so what could possibly be the problem?

The problem is there’s a catch, of course, and the catch is that all of Lambrick’s guests are trapped at gunpoint into playing a game of “Would You Rather” that becomes increasingly vicious and violent. It begins piquantly enough with Iris, a vegan, being challenged to eat meat for $10,000, and a former alcoholic (poor John Heard, who’s seen better days) presented with a bottle of Scotch and the reward of $50,000 if he drinks it. But then things get a lot darker very fast, with torture entering into the equation and the hapless assemblage having to decide whether to electrocute, whip, stab, drown or mutilate themselves or someone else.

Thankfully, for faint-hearted souls, and disappointingly, for hard-core gore fiends, these actual acts are presented less graphically than they could be. Throughout David Guy Levy’s tautly done piece of trash I kept flashing on two movies, Pasolini’s Salo (for obvious reasons) and the 1932 The Most Dangerous Game, which posited Leslie Banks as a demonic deserted island overlord bent on making miserable the lives of his captive prey, Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. Banks’ florid eccentricity proved far more riveting than the quivering hero and heroine, and here Combs, with something of the unctuous handsomeness of Edward Albee, also has a sadistically twisted field day. His victims, led by the impossibly bland Snow, are none of them really the type to inspire much audience sympathy, so the film plays out with an intensified nastiness as you watch them suffer. (I, for one, admit to laughing out loud when a tiresome old biddy, played amateurishly by a seeming nonprofessional, got good and zapped, electrically.)