Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #677
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: October 14, 2012
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: David Guy Levy
Producers: Zak Kilberg, Maura Anderson, David Guy Levy
Screenplay: Steffen Schlachtenhaufen
Special Effects: Chris Baer, Josh Russell
Cinematography: Steven Capitano
Score: Daniel Hunt, Bardi Johannson
Editing: Josh Schaeffer
Studios: Lambrick Foundation, LLC, Periscope Entertainment, Social Construct Films, Dreamher Productions
Distributor: IFC Films
Stars: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Sasha Grey, John Heard, Logan Miller, Robb Wells, Jonny Coyne, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Enver Gjokaj, Charlie Hofheimer, Eddie Steeples, June Squibb, Robin Lord Taylor
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Pink Floyd “Any Colour You Like”
 Daniel Hunt & Bardi Johannson “Would You Rather”
We all have to make choices. From the simple decisions like whether or not to consume a Greek yoghurt that’s two weeks out-of-date to moral decisions such as whether to swerve a cat in the road and risk careering off the beaten track into a two-hundred-year-old oak tree, there are times when quick thinking is necessitated in order to proceed. I’ve traditionally not been that hot when it comes to making on-the-spot selections and this culminated in driving the wrong way down a one-way street during my first of seven botched driving examinations. Some of us operate well under pressure while others, myself very much inclusive, invariably stump for the dud option and are left pondering the great ‘what if?’ once damage limitation exercises commence.
David Guy Levy’s sophomore feature Would You Rather focuses on suchlike moral dilemmas and preys on the morbid curiosity of its audience as it poses all manner of uncomfortable questions to its protagonists, pitting them against each other in the ultimate round of winner takes all. On first inspection, it is reminiscent of the Saw franchise although, where Jigsaw generally hand-picked the most contemptible contestants imaginable for his sick little games, the host here selects cash-strapped unfortunates for whom a cash injection could really change their lives for the greater good. Their motivation isn’t always made clear but we are left under no illusion that they want the once in a lifetime opportunity presented them and Levy hones in on what they are prepared to do in order to move one step ahead of the game.
The game in question is run by eccentric millionaire philanthropist Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs) who uses bait-and-switch to lure a group of desperate strangers to his lavish mansion for an annual gathering, masquerading as a dinner party. While each possess their own idiosyncrasies, the common thread between them is that they could all benefit greatly from his wealth and are present of their own free will. That said, they haven’t the vaguest clue as to the stakes of this particular game and are about to receive one helluva rude awakening. One of the candidates is cautious twentysomething Iris (Brittany Snow), forced into partaking by the need to obtain a bone marrow transplant for her Leukemia-stricken brother Raleigh (Logan Miller) and the fact that Lambrick’s proposal appears to offer her only available lifeline.
On her arrival she is swiftly introduced to her opponents although, at this point, the rules of the game are still unclear. This soon changes once dinner is served and Lambrick wastes no time whatsoever in dangling the first of many carrots. Iris is a strict vegetarian and he asks her to reconsider her nil-by-mouth stance to the tune of an on-the-spot $10k donation, insisting that everyone has a price. As our discredited veggie snacks down on her rather succulent looking steak in the blink of an eye, it is time to up the ante some more and pitch a similar poser to recovering alcoholic Conway (John Heard) requesting that he polish off a decanter of quality whisky to bag himself a more significant sum. Once again, our host makes his point in no uncertain terms, and the real games are all set to begin in earnest.
By this point we are under no illusion that things are about to take a turn for the more discomfiting and any kindly facade has now been dropped, in favor of a frank explanation of the terms and conditions of this heinous head-to-head. In order to land this monetary bonanza, the guests will be forced to compromise their moral and ethical codes, committing various increasingly horrendous injustices upon one another or themselves under the twisted rule set of the titular game. From hereon in, we are provided an examination of just how low ordinary people will sink with a hefty cash bonus and their own survival at stake and it isn’t long before the players show their true colors. Cue some deliciously dark moments, culminating in full-bodied belly laughs for this particular viewer as Levy demonstrates his uncanny knack for darkly comic timing. I shit you not, I damn near burst a kidney before the first round was over with and Lambrick’s excitable reaction to each atrocity just made it all the more uproarious.
Steffen Schlachtenhaufen’s screenplay aids in setting things up nicely as it avoids the obvious shortfall of making the group primarily hateful. Make no mistake, in Gothic nihilist Amy (Sasha Grey) it has itself a heart of the blackest variety, but most of the others seem intent on pulling together rather than fucking one another over for their shot at the grand prize and their reactions to each poser pitched are predominantly reasonably realistic. In addition, director of photography Steven Capitano ensures that the camera doesn’t flinch from each pawn as they ponder their decision and this keeps them locked firmly beneath the spotlight, with all eight hopefuls doing their bit to keep things ticking over nicely as we prepare for the next wave of abomination.
However, just like the despicable character he portrays, it is the perfectly cast Combs who ultimately pulls the strings and this part couldn’t be better suited to the man who gave us nefarious scientist Herbert West in Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. He sneers, scoffs, and guffaws in all the right places, leading the line like the gifted old-timer that he is, and it’s a joy to see him pay a part so custom-made for his vast facial repertoire. Indeed he is in his absolute element throughout, clearly having a ball at the expense of his quarry, and delighting in each of their collective torments as the game wears on towards its conclusion. Speaking of which, I found the ending particularly refreshing, as it leaves us with the burning question on all our lips and refuses to sell itself out to play the tidy game.
Would You Rather received a reasonably uncharitable reception from critics on its release and it’s a crying shame as, while not without its imperfections, there is plenty to commend here for those willing to accept it on its own terms. Levy’s film may not do enough to be considered a bona fide classic, but 93 minutes coast past effortlessly, and it never once threatens to outstay it welcome. With the towering Combs acting as sturdy anchor for the on-screen shenanigans, we’re in the very safest of hands and I’d much rather play along than miss an opportunity to see this particular cat on his A-game. Talk about a no-brainer.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Somewhat predictably given its premise, Would You Rather drew all manner of ill-favored comparisons to the Saw movies although Levy actually shows remarkable restraint with regards to what the audience is ever made privy to. He knows how to make us cringe but wisely chooses not to overplay his hand, instead leaving our minds to conjure the most grim images.
Read The Invitation Appraisal
Read Mother’s Day (2010) Appraisal
Read You’re Next Appraisal
Read Identity Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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It is a shame this one didn’t do well, Rich. I would like to see it although the premise seems very much like Saw. Jeffrey Combs and the late John Heard are wonderful actors and I would pretty much sign up to hear them read a phone book. Solid appraisal.