Saturday, September 17, 2005

REVIEW: Cry_Wolf

"You're not as smart as you think you are," the unnervingly Val Kilmer-esque Westlake Prep journalism professor played by Jon Bon Jovi cautions Owen, the nominal hero of "Cry_Wolf." He could just as easily have been describing the film itself, yet another too-clever-by-half teen slasher entry with pretentions of parlaying self-awareness of it's own genericism (genericity?) within the genre into a kind of postmodern hipness. File it under "Scream," with an asterixed notation that at least "Scream" took almost half a decade to get tired and dated, while "Cry_Wolf" accomplishes the same before it's even finished it's running time.

Owen (Julian Morris) is the new kid (from Britain, even) at Westlake, a postcard-perfect prep school somewhere in the Northeast. It's big, it's old-looking, and it's stuck in the middle of a deep dark woods. Chasing the affections of resident hottie ice-queen Dodger (Lindy Booth,) Owen gets mixed up with a Scooby Gang of friends who pass the time playing mind games. When Owen's Sherlockian observational skills render their original games overly simple, they begin a new one: Using the recent murder of a townie girl as a basis, they start a rumor via an Email chain letter that a not-Jason-Vorhees serial slayer called "The Wolf" is stalking the students. Almost immediately, threatening AIM messages are getting sent, wierd doin's are transpirin', and someone dressed up like The Wolf (neon ski-mask and cammo jacket, *yawn*) is following the main cast around in the dark.

Extrapolate from there on out, and you'll probably imagine a movie at least slightly better than what's actually offered. We've been through this too many times: Everyone thinks everyone else is behind it all, friendships are tested, allegiances are formed and reformed. Yes, red herrings are swimming all over the margins of the frame at all times. Yes, various characters are only able to absolve themselves of suspicion by revealing deep, dark secrets about themselves. Yes, there are montages in which various scenes we've already witnessed are replayed with "but then THIS HAPPENED!!!!" extra endings. By the end, the only fun to be had is guessing which cliche of both the prep-school-drama and teen-horror genres will make it's appearance next. Cladenstine teacher/student copulation? Check. A costume party making difficult the pursuit of a costume killer? Check. Fogged-up mirrors? Don't even have to ask. This is tedious, plain and simple.

It didn't have to be. The slasher film has endured precisely because it's formula is basic enough to be tweaked interestingly by seemingly minor variations. Merely coming up with new and creative murder-weapons has kept "Friday The 13th" undead and kicking for eleven movies and counting. Absent that option (and blessed with the sacred PG13 rating for the trouble) there's still room to grow by stocking the film with intriguing or unexpected characters. Instead "Cry_Wolf" has only the usual mandatory grab-bag. Roll call: Good Guy, Redneck, Fat Guy, Freaky Guy, Black Guy, Slut, Geeky Chick and Hot Bitch. Everyone's present and accounted for.

The film even lacks in the realm of theme and narrative design. In spite of all the PDAs, cell phones and AIM connections that figure so prominently, no attempt is made to spin this out into some kind of commentary on techno-age detachment. The closest we get is the use of AOL Instant Messengers signature (and obnoxious) "bee-doomp!" alert bell as a kind of product-placement substitute for "one, two, Freddy's comin' for you." This is either the most bloodless slasher film ever, or the most violent infomercial ever.

Skip it.

FINAL RATING: 3/10