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The Independent Culture
University is a very special place: that was the moral of Screen One: Truth or Dare (Sat BBC1), a zippy thriller from BBC Scotland. It's a very special place where you get up to crazy hijinks (baring your breasts at Murrayfield, getting nicked for shoplifting) and meet lots of splendid, fun-loving people. These comradely hedonists then turn out to be psychopaths and try to destroy your life.

The life under siege in Truth or Dare belonged to Lorna (Helen Baxendale from Cardiac Arrest), an Edinburgh-based solicitor. Her current man-squeeze is a married colleague (they get sticky and pink in an empty flat looked after by the firm), but she's bored with her petit-bourgeois existence. So when she's contacted by three old alumni chums, she jumps at the chance of a party.

Her first, unpromising encounter: big, blond, slightly stupid Ben (Ben Daniels) pretends to mug her in a car park. Then Nick (John Hannah) slouches out of the shadows, smoking dispassionately through a bad-guy goatee. That leaves Mel (Susan Lynch), a slapped-up wildcat with a sharp tongue. Still, the reunited foursome, now housed in Lorna's flat, get on swimmingly, and Lorna and Nick resume old passions in a country house, near a cliff named God's Crag.

But Nick is ruled by his evil facial hair, and has it off with Mel in Lorna's bed. Lorna chucks them out in a rage. Their revenge: photos of her sex games in the firm's flat, a letter revealing her criminal conviction, and a murderous stabbing for which the police finger Lorna herself. Nick and co demand 20 grand, but it's not really about money; it's about Lorna's lifestyle, which the anti-yuppie gang perceive to be a culpable sell- out.

It would be heinous to mention Shallow Grave just because Truth or Dare is from Scotland, but look. Those enormous Edinburgh flats in rusty versions of primary colours, that gleeful acidity of dialogue, that confident alchemy of the stylish and preposterous. The film's opening sequence, for example, was good shlock. The camera panned lazily down over a bucolic green Scots landscape; suddenly the screen was sliced blackly by telephone wires and a railway track. A man leapt under a train, while the title thudded on to the screen in three hot flashes.

And the preposterous? Twice we savoured images of Baxendale in a black catsuit, climbing artificial walls in some massive gymnasium. That was her hobby, but you knew it had to be crucial too. So the climax, atop God's Crag, featured Lorna and Nick pushing and shoving until they both fell off. Only Lorna had found some climbing rope earlier, and now she is safely dangling on a line, while Nick is a splat on the grass below. Lorna didn't give him any rope. Her friends were right after all: it doesn't pay to be a social climber.

Christmas (Sun C4), an off-beat hour in the new Talentspotting strand (check out the Welsh allusion), looked more imaginative. Director Marc Munden revelled in upside-down shots, too-tight close-ups and those 1960s scene changes involving horizontal whizzings of colourful blobs. The crackling script, by Jez Butterworth (who wowed some critics with Mojo at the Royal Court last year) and his brother Tom, was full of concealed-menace Tarantino- esque riffs on the merits of goose versus turkey, the height of a man, or whips.

But it too often descended into Mamet circa Oleanna: dialogue full of irritating ellipses and meaningful pauses. And the story? Boy working for King's Cross villain, whom he worships, is told to kill said villain or established, more powerful villain will kill boy's brother. So boy kills villain. The end. Christmas may have been clever, but the traditional thrills of Truth or Dare showed a more mature respect for the audience. Even a silly story's better than none at all.

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