It feels as though the so called ‘torture-porn’ movement has been on the wane since Eli Roth’s Hostel and James Wan’s Saw first arrived on the scene fifteen years ago, spraying blood and entrails around like streamers at Mardi Gras.
Often filled with increasingly inventive (and stomach-churning) situations, these films would often scrimp on character and plot in order to focus in on the gore-soaked frenzies of their chosen psychopaths.
Giles Alderson’s The Dare proves to be an interesting take on a slightly tired genre. Whilst you will certainly find more than enough grim set-pieces to whet your bloody appetites, the dual narrative that fleshes out the masked killer’s backstory is a welcome change of pace, and does a great job at forcing the audience to examine just where their sympathies lie.
The story sees Jay (Bart Edwards) and his family attacked in their home by a masked intruder. When he awakes, he finds that he has been imprisoned in a dark, blood-soaked basement with three strangers who are already the worse for wear at the hands of the faceless attacker.
What proceeds is an exercise in cruelty and karma, filled with inventive and squirmy torture scenes interspersed with flashbacks that fill in the gaps for the audience and, ultimately, for our captives.
It is in these flashbacks that the film finds its strength. We follow Credence (Richard Brake) as he raises his new son Dominic in the ruins of a dilapidated and grim farmhouse, teaching his boy how to ‘let the evil out’ through pain and blood.
Richard Brake is always a tremendously watchable presence, filling every frame with menace and revulsion as he holds court in his own private kingdom. Indeed, as the old-adage should say, ‘If you can have Richard Brake in your movie, put Richard Brake in your movie’.
The cast are uniformly efficient; Adam (Richard Short) and Kat (Alexandra Evans) shoulder much of the snark and black humour in the film, while poor Paul (Daniel Schutzmann) has little to do but writhe and moan in agony.
Our route through the film is tied to Bart Edwards’ Jay, a workaholic father who rails against the predicament he finds himself in, causing a world of agony for both himself and his cohorts.
Robert Maaser is the hulking psychopath behind the disgusting Skin-Mask, and brings an emotive physicality to his softly spoken monster. And when we do get a peek behind the mask, Maaser proves more than capable of delivering a deranged and edgy performance.
The practical effects of the film work much better than some of the CGI elements, with one crucifixion-like scene proving an agonising showstopper. Director Giles Alderson knows just when to cut away from the gore to allow the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks that have been filled only by screams.
Whilst genre contemporaries focus on elaborate traps and sharpened blades, The Dare frequently exploits a simpler, squidgier terror in its judicious use of creepy crawlies who creep and crawl in all the wrong places.
The films zips by at a strong pace; clocking in at just over ninety minutes, it wastes no time in throwing us headlong into the horror and ramps the tension up as more of the truth is revealed.
Whilst the titular dare of the film feels a little routine when the final act reveals its nature, the movie wrapped around this central conceit is far more inventive. An epilogue that teases a sequel gives the movie a surprising vibe of eighties horrors past, taking the tone of the film off in another direction entirely.
The Dare is a film that succeeds by beating its own path in a frequently trod sub-genre of horror. Arachnophobes beware, however; this is a film that may leave you every bit as traumatised and damaged as the victims on screen.
A vicious descent into agony, The Dare proves to be as interested in story as it is gore.
The Dare is available now on Digital Download and DVD 12 October
By Hugh McStay
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