Upfront I’ll admit to it; I love the delirious stupidity of FINAL EXAM (1981), and downright admire the nifty little script of APRIL FOOLS DAY (1986). I’m not even ashamed to go as far as to say that to me those two films, in their own way are classics, to be treasured and rediscovered by every coming generation of slasher fans and film directors alike. However, CRY_WOLF is not what I have in mind, and I don’t mind telling you why…
High School troublemaker Owen Matthews (Julian Morris) arrives at Westlake Preparatory Academy after being thrown out of his previous school for dating the dean’s pot smoking daughter. Surprisingly for a new kid, he finds making friends isn’t the biggest challenge at Westlake, staying alive is. Owen immediately connects with the right crowd, meeting up with sassy red head class skipper Dodger (Lindy Booth) and her crew of high school stereotypes. Subsequently on his first night on campus he finds himself involved in a prankish midnight rendezvous in the school chapel. Dodger, turns out the leader of a gang of “bored rich kids”, in charge of and ongoing joke which she cheerfully describes as a lying game. The object of which is to; “Avoid suspicion. Manipulate your friends and eliminate your enemies”. Proving the proper natural Owen wins the night’s session of the game (which by the way comes across utterly daft and invented). Meanwhile word gets around about a murder in the near woods, the gang hoping to up the stakes of their game a little bit agrees to try their skills on the whole campus, this by the use of a chain mail via the schools computer instant message service. Of course our regular expellee Owen risks his neck and sends out the mail spreading word that the murder in the woods was committed by a serial killer with a taste for teenager blood, and this is only the first in a series true to the killer’s modus operandi. However, apart from the obvious boorish tone of the joke, hurting the feelings of friends and family of the victim, it also looks like the actual killer takes offence and promises to kill off Owen and his (less and less) merry fellow pranksters. And not only that, it seems the killer finds his inspiration in Owens very writing and adopts the looks and plans of the chain mail, dressing in a ski mask and camouflage jacket and promising to murder following the detailed descriptions of the e-mail. Yes. The semester is indeed off to a rocky start for poor Owen and soon his newfound friends start to disappear one after another. And involved as he is up to his neck with people that spends their nights with lying games, who is there really to trust? And as the school gets ready for it’s Halloween celebrations, where this years most popular costume is ski mask and camouflage jacket, who is the real killer? Let the games begin! Who will survive, and what will be left of them?
Sounds good? Yes, admittedly it actually does on paper. And at least this reviewer felt quite giddy and hopeful about the whole thing when he was clutching the DVD case with its alluring box art, in the store. Furthermore it’s no coincidence that I opened by mention FINAL EXAM and APRIL FOOLS DAY, for just like in the former CRY_WOLF spends a lot of time meandering in the high school life as we’ve come to know and love it on film, complete with pubescent humour and troubled young hearts, this doubled with harsh and mean spirited pranks. And just like in the latter you can’t really trust anything or anyone throughout and red herrings are aplenty. And just like in both those films at the heart of the story there is some serious stalking and slashing going on. Sadly first time director Jeff Wadlow for some unfathomable reason tries to downplay the slasher elements in CRY_WOLF, as if it would be possible to turn this story into anything but a teen slasher. The few stalk sequences are fairly well executed but extraordinary brief, and the rather imposing killer, with a look reminiscent of the villain in THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978) is deployed tragically little. And finally violence is dished out in mere flashes, which totally takes the edge of what could have been some quite gruelling cynical scenes, and at the same time comfortably secures a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. All in all the whole thing positively reeks of missed opportunities from a horror point of view and as it stands in the end there is not even enough character development for it to be engaging on a high school (black) comedy level either, actually most of the characters are little more than faces and names. What Wadlow in fact had in mind is hard, if not impossible, to grasp, but the film ultimately seems to end up in whodunit territory more or less by awkward default than from any coherent direction. This of course is the central flaw of the film, a flaw which terminally punctuates what could have been an, albeit clichéd, but at least technically quite competent slasher. A pity.
female:3 / male:4
1) Female teen found dead
2) Female teen stabbed to death
3) Male teen stabbed to death (castrated - not shown)
4) Male teen stabbed to death (disembowelled - not shown)
5) Female teen stabbed to death (tongue cut out - not shown)
6) Male teen shot
7) Male shot