Very few actors have the kind of screen presence required to get me excited just by their involvement alone. Richard Brake has become one of those actors for me. When I was given the opportunity, I leaped at the chance to review his latest film, The Dare...
...He’s become one of the best character actors of this generation. The films he infects with his evil charisma work even better when you have a filmmaker who knows how to showcase all of his talent. This is the first fictional feature length film by Giles Alderson, who is primarily known for his short film work, but also had some success with his documentary. World of Darkness. I don’t know if lightning will strike twice for Anderson, but for a directorial debut, this is incredibly impressive.
This grizzly film begins far away from the cold darkness that is to come, in the warm, nurturing home of the Jackson family. Here we meet Jay Jackson, his two daughters and his wife. He proves to be a loving father who suffers from a case of what I call, the ‘Disney dad.’ Quite simply, the Disney dad is a hardworking husband and father, who isn’t home enough, but when he is, he’s basically the perfect dad. This isn’t a criticism either. Rather, it’s just an effective narrative mechanic that helps you sympathize with both the father and the rest of the family. Just before putting the girls to bed, they are met with a shadowy intruder who muscles his way through the home, harming his wife in order to get to Jay. Hours later, Jay wakes up in a dank, dark basement with three other victims, who are either wounded or barely clinging on to life. New to the club, Jay hasn’t experienced the Hell the others have endured, so he is ignorant to the low likelihood of escape. Hope fades quickly, as Jay sees the true potential of terror and trauma that the towering masked brute is capable of. He makes unscheduled visits to force the prisoners to do horrible, yet specific things to one another. The specificness does play a role as the story unfolds. Spliced between these scenes are flashback scenes of Credence (Richard Brake) raising a kidnapped child in some very disturbingly questionable ways. As the story progresses, we learn more about Credence, his motives and how all this intertwines with the present-day story.
I see a lot of horror films. I’d like to say the majority of them are good, but that’s rarely the case. That isn’t a slam to the filmmakers either. Horror is a genre that is very difficult to get right and I applaud anyone who has the courage to take a stab at it. Even watching the failures, it’s fruitful for me, because I love analyzing film in general. That being said, when a good horror film comes along, (a great one in this case) it’s truly a joy to sing its praises. It’s been a good while since I’ve seen a film of this caliber in the ‘torture porn’ genre. After Saw (2004) a slew of copycats arrived at our theaters and rental stores. The genre was quickly oversaturated and finding a diamond in the rough wasn’t an easy endeavor. Unless you were Eli Roth or aligned with James Wan or Leigh Whannell, you would be hard pressed to find quality in the genre. I’m delighted to say that Giles Alderson deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the two aforementioned men.
Right from the initial shots, the film exudes style. The color scheme is reminiscent of a David Fincher film turned up to eleven. Yellows and browns are accentuated and give the film a grimy look, without feeling cheap or low budget. This is due to the excellent camerawork and lighting. It’s irrefutable that the production artists, cinematographer and director of photography were firing on all cylinders. Smooth pans were haunting and eerie and the production design of Credence’s house looks appropriately lived in with dust on every surface, damaged furniture and low lighting. The basement is also effectively unnerving. It evokes almost all of my senses when looking at it, as the cold cemented floor are damp and discolored, chains dangle from the crusty, jagged walls, and I can only imagine the pungent smell that is undoubtedly trapped down there from the lack of ventilation. It’s all very effective stuff and it requires delicate handling of the craft.
The Dare is not just a visually compelling film, but also one with a poignant story surrounding abuse and even the dangerous effects of bullying. The difference between a film like this and another film from the torture porn genre, is that The Dare goes a step further and lets the torturing service the story, rather than the usual other way around. I’ve seen many gore-soaked films that were fun and exciting to watch, but ultimately were shallow and had nothing to say. There’s nothing wrong with that when one sets out to make a film with the intent of just entertaining, but when there’s more substance, the experience feels robust and well rounded. Don’t get me wrong, Anderson’s film is by no means the most powerful social commentary I’ve seen this year, but it does try to be more than what we’re used to in this genre. However, it doesn’t always succeed in this department. There are times in the film when shock value is kind of thrusted upon the audience as a spectacle and the overall tone isn’t balanced. It can become a, “let me show you something really gross!” kind of thing, but these moments are scarce and more often than not, the film feels like it does have some integrity.
Expectedly, Richard Brake gives a powerhouse of a performance. Whenever he is on screen, the spontaneous chance that he may explode into an angry fit is always a close by possibility. His presence is intimidating to say the least. He’s not all chaos and nail-biting inducing tension, though. Clarence is most certainly a bad guy, but he’s also a very complex character with little dashes of humanity trying to break through his overpowering sense of malice and evil nature. His story is one of loss and regret and how that can, if not treated properly, turn into unbridled madness. If there is one actor working today who deserves the recognition of accolades and praise, it’s Richard Brake.
The Dare is a story that unfolds with near perfect pacing. What may seem like a straightforward torture porn horror flick, ends up being a challenging story that spans different periods of time and actually tries to say some important things. It’s not an after school special or a PSA, but it raises awareness regarding abuse and bullying in its own unique and twisted way. As I stated earlier, I see a lot of horror films. It’s only March, but The Dare is the best horror experience I’ve had this year and there’s a very good chance it will still hold that trophy come December.
Take The Dare when it releases on VOD/Digital March 3rd from The Horror Collective, followed by a limited, one night only release in theaters on March 6th.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth