Horror movies have a habit of reflecting society’s darkest fears. Invasion of the Body Snatchers had its heroes fighting a futile battle against communists in the guise of soulless aliens, while films like The Strangers and Funny Games explore the average American’s helplessness against a new generation of adolescents whose apathy can cross the line into sociopathic violence. When considering which horror movies best exemplify America’s greatest fear from the 2010s to the present, I could point to films such as Unfriended, The Den, Friend Request, Dark Summer, and #Horror, which all paint the dangers of social media as this generation’s biggest epidemic. And while these films point to a grave societal problem, I think I’ve found a film that encapsulates modern America’s deepest fear: the American healthcare system. The film responsible is Would You Rather, a mediocre horror movie that seems oblivious to its true source of scares. Sometimes the best societal commentary is accidental.
Synopsis: As the only caretaker of her cancer-stricken brother, Iris is up to her eyes in medical debt and devoid of job prospects. When her brother’s doctor suggests that she can pay off her debts by winning an unusual “contest” at the wealthy Mr. Lambrick’s estate, Iris immediately agrees. But while the contest starts off innocuously, it soon becomes a dangerous game of “Would You Rather?” Iris and the rest of the guests must choose between increasingly brutal and gruesome acts, or risk being killed by their hosts.
My take: In one of the final scenes in Would You Rather, Iris finds herself face down in a barrel of water, holding her breath for 2 minutes to escape being shot. As she holds her breath, memories of her brother swim past her eyes, strengthening her resolve to win. It was at this point that I thought “how can the American healthcare system be so fucked up that a character has to face drowning just to pay her brother’s health bills?”
All of the guests at Mr. Lambrick’s party are invited because of their desperation. They need to pay off medical bills or get medical treatment, but none of them can afford it. When the game first starts, Mr. Lambrick tells his guests that “Would You Rather?” demonstrates to him their ability to make smart choices and to show rationale, therefore showing him which guest most “deserves” what they’re seeking. Watching a film like this, I could only roll my eyes and think “only in America.”
Only in America would there be a film where desperately ill people have to kill each other off to afford basic healthcare. Only in America would the hosts of this game call his guests “pigs” and turn the blame for their medical problems back on them. What’s scary about this film is not the fact that Iris has to drown herself to win a round, or another guest has to slice open his eye, but that these actions are only highly dramatized versions of the hell people have to go through just to pay for their care.
Worse, the game pits the contestants against each other, furthering the narrative that what should be a basic right is something to be earned, a golden apple fit only for the worthy. I can’t tell if the director was aware of the statement he was making or if this belief that healthcare is only for the wealthy is ingrained in our society. You would never see this type of film coming out of Canada or France.
So, yeah, Would You Rather is a lame horror movie that doesn’t deserve its own review. But as a vehicle for social commentary, it’s a film that needs to be talked about. I guarantee that you’ll be less disgusted by the blood and guts than by the thought of a woman taking an ice-pick in the stomach just to pay for her brother’s bone marrow transplant.