Academic journal article The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies

Would You Rather

Academic journal article The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies

Would You Rather

Article excerpt

Would You Rather (Dir. David Guy Levy) USA 2012 IFC Films

For most, the short-lived commercial success of torture pom in the mid-Noughties had tapered off when the Saw series was finally put out to pasture following the release of Saw 3D in 2010. However, if recent reports come to fruition that lionsgate are developing an eighth instalment, this genre mainstay could well be called out of retirement for one more blood-soaked payday. So, while the release of Would You Rather in 2013 arrives somewhat too late to the torture-pom party to be considered a legitimate genre cornerstone like Saw (2004) or the Hostel series (2005, 2007, and 2011), it suggests that for some, the torture-pom flame still bums brightly (or at least flickers in a limited release/straight-to-DVD kind of way), and acts as a stopgap measure to sate audiences' gleefully sadistic appetites in the intervening period. Would You Rather is something of a genre offspring, as it approaches torture through a combination of the 'game' narrative of Saw with the gratification of the elite of Hostel, centring around a contest in which players must decide between two equally undesirable and possibly lethal choices for the entertainment of a wealthy aristocrat.

The plot focuses on Iris (Brittany Snow), who, finding herself in financial desperation, accepts an invitation from the affluent stranger Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs), to attend a dinner-party at which she will play a game against seven other guests, potentially to win medical care for her sick brother. Upon arrival, the group are joined by the flamboyant Lambrick and his obnoxious son Julian (Robin Lord Taylor), and are served a lavish meal of foie gras and rib-eye steak by butler Bevans (Jonny Coyne). It is here that the sinister intentions of what is to come begin to unfold, when Lambrick offers and successfully secures a number of morally bankrupt deals with several of his guests. First, he persuades vegetarian Iris into eating meat for ten thousand dollars, before goading Conway (John Heard), a recovering alcoholic of sixteen years, off the wagon with an enticing bounty of fifty thousand dollars. When Conway questions Lambrick's motivation for acting in this way, his response is, 'Because I want to help you.' These exchanges of tense, faux-moral dialogue, coupled with Lambrick's modus operandi of character assassination, are arguably the most uncomfortable in the film. He exploits his position of power as leverage over the players to uncover their weaknesses and publicly humiliate them, in scenes that linger in the memory more than any of the film's depictions of physical harm, as the audience must endure the spectacle of a person selling their integrity for a price - however high it may be.

Following the meal, Lambrick outlines the rules of 'would you rather' before giving one final chance for people to withdraw from playing. Thus begins a game involving assorted methods of injury infliction, with Lambrick acting as master of ceremonies. The structure of the competition provides increasingly problematic ethical dilemmas, such as when highstakes gambler Peter (Robb Wells) must choose between lashing Iraq veteran Travis (Charlie Hofheimer) with an African whipping staff, or potentially fatally stabbing paralysed Linda (June Squibb) in the thigh with an ice pick. The characterisations of Travis as a serviceman and Bevans as a former MI5 interrogator are especially revealing, as they tap into the cultural anxiety surrounding supposedly permissible torture which contextualised the genre's rise during the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay scandals in the early to mid-2000s. This is most evident when Julian thanks Travis for his courageous service, but then exacts his revenge for daring to question him. …

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