Directed by Jeff Wadlow. Starring Julian Morris, Lindy Booth, Jared Padalecki, Jon Bon Jovi, Sandra McCoy, Kristy Wu. (2005, PG-13, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 23, 2005
Rumors of the slasher genre’s death have not been greatly exaggerated, if this Chrysler Million Dollar Film Contest winner is any indication. Signs of the imminent demise of this increasingly self-referential shocker sub-strata have been turning up at least since the Wayans brothers plowed under the fertile Jason/Freddy/Michael plot and reseeded the former boneyard with a more irony-rich brand of comic horror than even Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson could have envisioned. Meta-horror of this stripe is a sure sign that the audience – not to mention the filmmakers – has become jaded, and while Cry_Wolf’s canny focus on the Internet and its various technological offspring as a metaphor for the emotionally denuded aspects of pop culture and the evaporation of teen spirit is arguably right on the money, it doesn’t make the film any more exciting, or even remotely worthy of the appellation "horror film." Ripe with arch dialogue and the sort of catty verbal brinksmanship that one assumes passes for clever in institutions where Jon Bon Jovi is allowed to teach journalism, Cry_Wolf suddenly becomes downright fun when viewed as a stinging critique of post-adolescent whininess. But who wants to do that, really? At the very least I’d think some of the old red stuff would be in order, preferably spurting onto an off-white wall or getting somebody’s Top-Siders all gooey. No such luck, though; Wadlow’s thriller is about as bloodless an affair as you can get without hitting the dreaded PG rating. Morris plays the new kid on campus at tony Westlake Preparatory Academy who falls in with the Society of Future Leopold and Loebers, the intellectually-curious-but-emotionally-stunted clique that seems to run pretty much every cinematic high school as far back as Heathers. Led by the leggy advanced placer Dodger (Booth), the group eschews traditional forms of teen entertainment like sex, drugs, and rock and roll in favor of clandestine midnight meetings in the chapel, where they play a lying game called Cry Wolf where the object is to "defend your honor, avoid suspicion, and eliminate your enemies." Apart from readying them for a life in the political sphere, it seems an awfully snoozy way to pass the time, and so when Dodger ups the stakes to include the whole campus by foisting off a serial-killer scare on the entire student/teacher population, they’re game and so is the audience. And then, like clockwork, a real maniac shows up – or does he? Despite an ambitious script from Wadlow and Beau Bauman, it’s extremely difficult to care, seeing as how these tropes have already been recycled enough to make Greenpeace proud. Wadlow’s direction mixes frenetic editing and plenty of shaky-cam chases to no avail, and while the cast is uniformly believable as these cynical teen existentialists, even a cameo by Sartre’s No Exit fails to elicit more than a dull thud.