There are plenty of horror films/thrillers where a psychopath does horrible things to people, however “Would You Rather” has a neat psychological twist with the way its killer operates. For most of the film the killer never actually does anything but forces his victims to hurt themselves, while giving them the chance to hurt themselves in a sick game that preys on their desperation. In a sign of our times, one participant is doing it to pay for medical bills. The length people will go for good health care.
Iris (Brittany Snow) is struggling to find a job, while her brother Raleigh (Logan Miller) is fighting leukemia. The bills keep pilling up and Raleigh needs a bone marrow transplant. A possible solution comes along when Iris’ doctor introduces her to Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs), a rich man who says he can pay for the treatments and even find a donor for her brother. All she has to do is attend a dinner party he is hosting and play a game. Iris is of course hesitant at first thinking this all sounds rather shady, but after she gets a call telling she has been refused for a waitressing job she puts her best dinner clothes on.
The dinner takes place at a huge mansion where there is even a butler, Bevans (Jonny Coyne) who looks like a mean version of Bob Hoskins. Including Iris, there are eight guests in attendance who have been invited because they need the money. Also present is Julian (Robin Taylor) Lambrick’s weasel of a son who before joining the guests is reminded he can only observe but not interfere with what will happen. The guests take their seats, dinner is served and the game slowly begins.
As soon as the plates are served it becomes clear Lambrick is not the nice kind of millionaire. When Iris says she is a vegetarian and cannot eat the steak is in front of her, Lambrick offers her $10,000 to eat it. When another guests reveals he is a former alcoholic, Lambrick ups the ante and offers him $50,000 to drink an entire bottle of Scotch. Well, what is the worth of years of sobriety? Once the plates are cleared, the rules of the game are set. Each participant will be given a choice and given 15 seconds to make their choice. If they do not make a choice, they are eliminated. Whoever remains by the end of the game wins the money.
Sounds easy enough except for the first round the choice is: would you rather electrocute yourself or your neighbor? In round two, the choice is between stabbing your neighbor in the tigh with an ice pick or whipping someone three times. If you choose option C and try to leave the house, Bevans the butler will promptly shoot you where you stand.
Throughout the evening it becomes painfully obvious Lambrick is a sick sadist who sees this as a fun game. He cracks small jokes and occasionally laughs at the participants’ pain when they make an unexpected choice. Yet when Julian crosses the line with Iris, he actually apologizes as though this is just an average dinner and there is no reason not to be civil.
So, is this a good movie? Points must be given to director David Guy Levy and writer Steffen Schlachtenhaufen for aiming for psychological terror instead of a blood bath. As Lambrick says, the action each player makes has consequences and you are never sure what twisted instrument Lambrick will bring out next and what actions the players will take with them. They are all essentially trapped in a lose/lose situation. If they hurt themselves, they suffer. If they hurt their neighbor, they may survive but will they be able to live with their choices?
Yet the experience throughout is infuriating. My blood was pumping with each choice taken, but all the time I felt rage at Lambrick for his sadism and his ability to safely sit back and enjoy the show as these people suffered. The extremely dour ending leaves the door open for a sequel and I would like to see the tables turned and see Lambrick forced to participate in his own game. An evil millionaire tortured with his own instruments: I’d buy that for a dollar.
("Would You Rather" is available on Blu-Ray and DVD and is streaming on Netflix.)