Would You Rather is a consummate horror B-movie, which may be a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view. The grammatically suspect title tells you what you need to know about the film’s simplistic premise, which sees a bunch of people forced to play a nightmarish game of ‘Would you rather?’ In terms of plot, this is about as basic as it gets. But within its rather limited ambition, the film manages to be very effective.
Would You Rather assembles a quite remarkable cast, with a keystone performance from Jeffrey Combs. Combs is something of a horror legend due to his role in the classic Lovecraftian 80s horror film Reanimator, but his movie appearances since have been sadly few and far between. It’s delightful that he has so much screen time here, and he shows his characteristic ability to inhabit weird and disturbing characters with a trademark fusion of menace, humour, and a disarming vulnerability. Combs is a special talent and he makes this film. He plays Shepard Lambrick, the wealthy head of the Lambrick Foundation, an ostensibly philanthropic body dedicated to giving down-on-their-luck Americans a second chance. Just so happens their way of doing this is by subjecting them to horrific torture in the guise of some kind of social experiment or as a means of ‘re-educating’ them. The film superficially satirizes inequality in modern America and particularly the philanthropy of the rich and powerful, but ultimately the story and script just serve to set the scene for ninety minutes of increasingly bloody action.
Would You Rather’s superb supporting cast features familiar faces from a motley assortment of movies and TV shows. As if Jeffrey Combs wasn’t enough, Would You Rather also gives us Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, Victor from Dollhouse, D’Angelo Barksdale from The Wire, porn legend Sasha Grey, and the dad from Home Alone. What’s all the more amazing is that they all have proper parts. If there was any justice in the world then whoever cast this movie would have won an Academy Award.
Most of these poor sods have been lured to Combs’ mansion by the prospect of a lucrative prize if they win his mysterious ‘game’. Everyone involved has some kind of life problem that has rendered them desperate, mainly drug or gambling debts; while our heroine and main character (Brittany Snow) is trying to raise money to pay the hospital bills for her kid brother, who is dying from cancer. Everyone has agreed to participate in the event without knowing what is entailed, and they quickly find out that once they’ve started participation is no longer optional. Thus begins the world’s most sadistic game of ‘would you rather…?’, which quickly escalates into torture, mutilation and murder.
As you may have guessed, this is not a film for the squeamish or faint of heart. But then you’re unlikely to come across this film by accident, and if you’re seriously considering watching it chances are you’re already a fan of the genre. Even then, this isn’t as nasty as some other more famous ‘torture porn’ movies, and on the whole it has a bit more of a black comedy feel than some other examples of the genre. If you find yourself short of a horror movie some Friday or Saturday night, you could do a lot worse than give this one a try.