After three seasons of acting in a YTV children’s series, Harrison Houde and Sydney Scotia have produced and starred in their own dramatic thriller—and the change suits them well. I Dare You is short, but packed. Stuffed, even. It’s a film with raps, dares, cops, and scenes that hit multiple emotional registers at once. But it’s also simple: I Dare You is a coming-of-age, escape-from-home story told in less than fifteen minutes that feels real, true and believable. The characters are shocked out of teenagehood rather than gently guided into adulthood. It’s fun, strange, and scary—it thrills.
To get an idea of what this movie is about, witness the first scene. Capturing a windy day, the camera pans down from grey skies to old wooden buildings, settling on an eroded gravel path. Everything is old—except our three protagonists, walking towards the camera. They wear bright city clothing and they are excited and cocky and oblivious to the setting around them, one looking a little too proud with a pack of beer curled around his finger. They are teenagers, through and through, leaving tomorrow, we find out, for college. They want out. On its own, these first ten seconds introduce many of the themes: the feeling of being trapped unwillingly in a small town, rebellion, boredom, compensating for that boredom with excess. But when a cop car pulls into the frame and a stern policeman warns the kids to “stay out of trouble,” (a warning they respond to, as typical teenagers, with polite disregard) the central theme reveals itself to be a meditation on hubris. It asks: What is on the other side of hubris? What are (and aren’t) we capable of?
To explore these questions, the movie relies on its characters. It is a character driven story, and most of the technical craft is designed to create an intimate setting that helps viewers identify with the characters. The scenes are dark, there are few props, and most of the shots are close-ups of faces full of expression. The minimalist style draws the attention away from the craft and towards the actors, and the actors deliver—their performances are, and I usually avoid this word: stunning. Zachary Gulka (playing Richard) captures the vulnerability underneath hubris so convincingly it hurts; watching, you feel what it’s like to be seventeen and in front of a gun. Reese Alexander, too. My god, he’s as unnerving an antagonist as Frank Booth from Blue Velvet, only meaner, more charged.
For the most part I have only enthusiasm about the movie, but there were a few small quirks that didn’t work for me. Usually these had to do with moments that lacked subtlety or nuance. There’s a CGI explosion which is very obviously CGI, a Ferris Bueller reference that felt ungainly, and a scene or two that didn’t match the complexity and seamlessness of the movie’s rewarding climax. But generally these were one or two second glitches that were easily forgotten. They don’t ruin; they just distract.
Altogether, I Dare You is a great short film. Sometimes it bears the marks of a low-budget first film, but it’s also confident and mature. It imagines if one of your teenage good nights gone wrong had gone more wrong, and it captures how thin the threshold between childhood and adulthood is. And it’s contemporary. The characters read like today’s first year college students, and, admittedly, part of the fun of the film is watching these characters who reference Bieber and say things like “vajayjay” finally grow up, and grow up in a way that feels true. By the end of the film, we’ve watched them move from unfounded hubris, through replete nervousness, to a kind of shell-shocked distance. We get the sense that we’ve watched the characters change more on screen than they ever will at university.
See I Dare You at select festivals this year (including Festival de Cannes, 2016). For more information, visit idareyoufilm.com.