Back in September, I went on opening night to see SORORITY ROW, a silly remake of a just-as-silly 1980s slasher. I really don’t like slashers in general, so why this lame remake inspired me, I’ll never know. But inspire it did, and I set myself to the task of reviewing a bunch of slashers, the first round of which were school-based. Several months later, I stopped stalling and actually committed myself to following through on it (hey, I told you I can’t stand slashers). Below is the seventh in this series of reviews.
I debated whether to include CRY WOLF in among this series of reviews, and with good reason. It’s got a school; it’s got a slasher; it’s a whodunnit. But watching it again tonight, it just didn’t seem to sit right with the likes of SLAUGHTER HIGH and FINAL EXAM. It’s not really a school slasher, per se, but a thriller, basing its appeal more off the mystery than the actual violent murders. Pondering it, I concluded that though it doesn’t outright fit into the subgenre, it’s a spiritual brother to those films, and so I decided to give it an entry. Mostly, though, I made this choice because it’s a really good little film. Though most people looked upon it as a throwaway when it came out (I myself spent years confusing it with WOLF CREEK, a very different slasher flick), it’s well worth a watch.
CRY WOLF starts out as so many school slashers do, with the pre-credit murder in the woods. A female running through the trees at night ends up on the wrong end of a bullet. Following this, the obligatory panning shot of the school hones in on our protagonist, Owen, a Brit who’s new to the boarding school. The film sets up an offsetting tone right out, as the new kid finds the school eerily empty. When he encounters the redheaded co-ed Dodger, she gives him the expository news about the first murder victim, a townie with a bad reputation as a slut. Owen and Dodger seem instantly drawn to one another, and the script actually gives them some interesting dialogue, then lets them develop some legitimate chemistry.
From here, the film introduces the audience to Dodger’s friends, a mixed group who meet in the school chapel late at night. As with the students in DEAD POETS SOCIETY, they engage in games to spell their boredom. They involve Owen in a game of Wolf, as the group tries to identify which is the beast among the fold of sheep. But the game isn’t enough for Owen. He and Dodger decide to create their own mythical campus killer, the Wolf, and send out an email to the entire student body explaining his M.O. But when the game seems to turn real, Owen finds he may be in peril.
At its core, CRY WOLF is a multi-leveled, ever shifting game of cat-and-mouse, and a quality one at that. As the movie progresses, Owen, and through him the audience, tries to discover the identity of the Wolf. Or if there really is a Wolf, for that matter. Is one of his new friends a murder, and if so, which? Or is this an orchestrated game among them to deceive him? If so, which are in on it, and which are fellow victims of the gag? Every time he thinks he’s figured something out, one of his friends throws a new wrinkle at him. More thought went into this script by Beau Bauman and director Jeff Wadlow than most screenplays for slashers, as the worm turns every few minutes. Though I suspect some fans will feel let down by how one character surmises the entire mystery in the last few minutes of the film, I actually enjoyed the explanation. The intricate plot takes one final twist, and it’s a worthy payoff.
Slasher fans are likely to be more annoyed by the almost complete absence of blood. Though the DVD is billed as the “Unrated” cut, this is not exactly Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD. I think the Fascist MPAA would probably still have given it the PG-13 it had in the theatres, even with the 15 seconds of minimal gore that it includes now. Not only is the gore factor scant, but the killings aren’t really creative. And that’s if they exist at all. But I can forgive this, because CRY WOLF isn’t really about the body count. It’s about figuring out the puzzle.
If there’s one complaint I have about the film, it’s the acting. When Jared Padalecki is one of the shining stars in a cast, there’s a problem. Sure, the actors are playing dumb kids, but they range from bland to borderline incompetent. Lindy Booth stands out with her witty performance and fire red hair, and is much more memorable here than she was in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. Why the filmmakers chose to cast Gary Cole in a role that saddles him with a British accent is a mystery, but it doesn’t work. Neither does Jon Bon Jovi as a philandering teacher. He’s a distraction, and I half suspect whoever sees CRY WOLF will be waiting for him break into the chorus of “Wanted Dead or Alive.” I know I did.
For a minor film, CRY WOLF boasts a healthy set of extras, though Bon Jovi doesn’t sing on any of them. There’s a behind-the-scenes featurette that doesn’t offer much, and screen tests that highlight the poor quality of most of the acting. There are also a slew of deleted, alternate and extended scenes, very few of which offer much of interest; the exception is a scene of Owen in the woods. All are available with or without commentary. If you’re going to check them out, it’s worth going through them twice so you can hear why the scenes were cut or altered. Two of Wadlow’s short films are here, but they’re unlikely to please the slasher crowd. They’re not horror flicks, and they really don’t belong on the disc. There’s also a commentary by Wadlow, Bauman and editor Seth Gordon. They go into great detail about the script, and also cover the acting and the cinematography, some of which is pretty creative; such as when it bends the text of the email into the silhouette of the Wolf. Though the discussion isn’t flashy, I enjoyed it.
CRY WOLF is likely to disappoint slasher fans who love SPLATTER UNIVERSITY and PROM NIGHT. It’s not really a horror movie so much as a thriller, and it lacks the creative deaths and gallons of blood they usually seek. But for what it is, I enjoyed it. Maybe it doesn’t really belong in the subgenre at all. But it’s got the trappings that hearken right back to those school slashers, and even if it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it’s an enjoyable one.
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