Would You Rather (2012)

This film tries. Man, does it ever try.

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Would You Rather has ambitions to be Hostel with a morality lesson on human nature rather than a commentary on capitalism and human trafficking. It brings a group of down on their luck victims into a vicious game of “would you rather” hosted by a group of millionaires with nothing better to do. There is blood, bad manners, and a whole lot of “rock and a hard place” conundrums. The characters are vaguely likable, and all of them desperately need help. Our main point of view character, Iris, needs money to support her sick brother. The other characters have similar motivations, though not all of them are spelled out.

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The question the movie opens with is, how far would a poor person go for money?

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Turns out, pretty far.

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The problem is, we already knew that. Society has proven this to us a thousand times before. None of the things that Would You Rather has to say about the extreme wealth disparity between the villains and the victims are revolutionary or even interesting. Would You Rather gives us an ensemble cast with varying levels of sympathy, but not enough backstory on any single character to make their choices truly interesting. What drives the group to eventually implode and turn on each other might have been interesting if – again – we hadn’t seen this scenario play out a hundred times before.

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Would You Rather has been done before, and better.

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It’s not a bad film, per say. Jeffery Combs clearly had a blast playing the main villain and provides most of the humor – intentional and otherwise – in an otherwise dreary film. The script could have been tighter, but all of the dialog flows well and feels realistic. The victims were all well cast and embodied their various backstories with as much nuance as the script provided. Charlie Hofheimer’s performance as Travis, the ill-tempered ex-soldier who nonetheless proves to be one of the more sympathetic and tragic characters, was especially notable.

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Would You Rather ends on the same quiet note that it began on. One character wins the game, but their life has not improved. They have a giant bag of cash and blood on their hands. Their sacrifice was quite literally in vain. Would You Rather has ambitions to talk about the mentality that comes along with extreme wealth disparity, the desperation brought on by poverty, and the problems of a capitalist society that flattens the weak and poor under its heel. These are worthy ambitions, but Would You Rather doesn’t manage to deliver on them. If you are interested in films with a similar premise but better execution, I would suggest looking at the Purge series.

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