Poor representation of minority and LGBTQ characters in horror is a sad truth, but the filmmakers of “Truth or Dare” dare to go a different route.
It’s June, I’m gay, and I love horror movies. That’s some pretty easy math when calculating what I’ll be writing about this time. I considered taking the easy way out and providing a list of horror movies with the cutest guys but realized everyone has different tastes — and also, you’re not that shallow. Then I remembered a movie I caught not too long ago with a gay character that was not depicted as gay characters are normally depicted, which in turn got me to thinking…
In this world, there are a few absolutes. Death and taxes being the most famous, of course. In the world of horror, absolutes are legion: Never have sex, never say “I’ll be right back,” don’t do drugs, always check the backseat, under no circumstances stay at an isolated cabin the woods. And perhaps most importantly, do not be a minority. Because just like those poor schmoes who wear the red shirts in Star Trek, you gonna die first.
So, as we celebrate Pride Month, I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss a horror film in which one of the main characters is not only Asian but also a gay man (a minority double whammy death sentence for sure).
The movie is last year’s Truth or Dare.
And surprisingly, the filmmakers not only spared him the indignity of immediate annihilation, they went beyond portraying him as a one-dimensional red shirt.
Instead, they created a character with depth and real-world problems. I’m not exaggerating when I say you could have knocked me over with a feather.
The plot of Truth or Dare is not a novel conceit. A group of college friends travel to Mexico for Spring Break, meet a stranger at a bar who promises to take them to a kick-ass party, and then proceed to die one by one. I mean, the fact the party was supposedly at an abandoned mission in the middle of nowhere should have at least been a whiff of a clue to the hapless group.
The stranger, Sam, had earlier gone to the church with a group of his own friends who unwittingly unleashed a trickster demon with a penchant for human suffering. Think The Exorcist meets Final Destination. They played truth or dare, but the demon decided to change the rules. Thinking he could pass the curse on and free himself, Sam lured this new group of friends to the church and convinced them to play the same game.
The movie unfolds just about as you’d expect. What you might not expect, however, is how their gay Asian friend Brad (Hayden Setzo) fares during the ensuing chaos and calamity.
What impressed me about Brad was his…normalness.
His homosexuality did not define him, and neither did his Asian heritage. He was not portrayed in a stereotypical manner as token, flamboyant, demon fodder. Rather, he was a smart, funny friend who just happened to be gay. What impressed me even more was how much time they spent developing his character.
When it’s Brad’s turn to deal with the demon, he is instructed to “come out” to his homophobic father who happens to be a cop. The result of this terrifying and awful confession? Acceptance and relief. Yes, you read that correctly. Much to the demon’s chagrin, I’m sure, Brad’s father did not go medieval on his son’s ass but chose love instead of violence or hate. Given that most Asian cultures take a dim view of homosexuality, this reaction is kind of a big deal.
I know it’s an American movie reflecting a slightly more progressive societal opinion. But if a closeted gay boy in Japan or Korea or China gleans a glimmer of hope from this scene, if it prevents him from making that final, devastating decision, then it’s worth it.
The filmmakers took the path less traveled, and it does make all the difference.
Now, make no mistake, as with the majority of his friends, Brad does die (with this type of movie, it’s virtually inevitable). Yet he’s not the first nor second nor third to do so. And that, my fellow horror nerds, is progress. And while it may not rise to the level of Stonewall or Harvey Milk or even Ellen or Will & Grace, for our world of scary movies, Truth or Dare may one day be seen as the start of something extraordinary.