The essence of much effective horror is an ability to tap into the churning fears of a moment in time. The low-budget, grimly realized “Would You Rather” is explicit about this approach, introducing us to a young woman (Brittany Snow) in dire financial straits with a terminally ill brother to care for. She agrees to attend a dinner hosted by an eccentric, wealthy philanthropist (Jeffrey Combs, enjoying himself) who promises a form of help.
Instead, she and seven other guests find themselves coerced into playing a cruel version of the titular game, predicated on committing atrocious acts upon one another (or oneself) to potentially win a monetary bonanza. Though hardly gore-exploitative enough to qualify as torture porn, “Would You Rather” is designed to morally unnerve once we’re locked into the dining room set.
Yet as much as screenwriter Steffen Schlachtenhaufen and director David Guy Levy would like their big-metaphor premise to invite audience introspection — don’t play this at home, kids! — there’s little to do but ride this recognizable exploitation train to its ending. Though assured in execution and not without a few moments of genuine tension — mainly emanating from Combs’ flinty weirdness — “Would You Rather” is hardly a most dangerous game night at the movies.
“Would You Rather.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At Laemmle’s Noho 7, North Hollywood.