Would You Rather has one major asset in an appropriately gothic, larger-than-life performance by Jeffrey Combs, the great, chameleon-like character actor best known for playing a mad scientist in Re-Animator. Combs devours copious scenery as a demented, power-mad Falstaffian figure who gets his sick kicks forcing desperate people to commit crimes against each other as part of a tortured family tradition of sadism and degradation. Though Combs is clearly enjoying himself, the fun doesn’t always carry over to the audience.
Generic blonde actress Brittany Snow (even her name feels taken straight out of The Big Book Of Ingénues) stars as a young woman who agrees to participate in a mysterious game at the behest of ominous stranger Combs. Combs promises to save the life of Snow’s desperately sick brother and provide the comfort and security she’s been looking for if she wins the game, with no negative consequences if she comes up short. But before long, the game turns bloody and then deadly, as the traumatized players—played by the vaguely recognizable likes of John Heard and Sasha Grey, whose blankness is much less effective here than it was in The Girlfriend Experience—are locked in a battle for survival. Combs delights in getting the players to violate their moral and ethical codes, but the film is ultimately less interested in examining the depths people will sink for the sake of survival than in delivering a steady stream of fresh corpses.
With the action limited largely to a single table in a single room, this claustrophobic, stagy bloodbath gives a third-rate Twilight Zone premise the dreary, second-hand torture-porn treatment. If nothing else, Would You Rather inspires grudging admiration for the cornball Rube Goldberg craftsmanship at the core of Saw’s lovingly imagined torture devices, as Would You Rather favors a more simple-minded approach that’s even less effective. Would You Rather exists for the sake of Combs’ towering turn, and that ultimately isn’t enough to justify its negligible existence.