“You should never go into a dark room alone, but you always will.” “If you’re in a bathroom with fogged up mirrors, you’re probably in the same room with the killer, but you’ll stay there until it’s too late anyway.” Most thriller/horror movies have a set of rules like these, plot guidelines if you will, that governs the basic motives and actions of the characters within. Sometimes those rules are fairly traditional and sometimes they’re new and inventive, but usually they’re a demented version of the traditional rules, bent slightly to give the film the deceitful appearance of being original.
Cry_Wolf is one of the more, deceitful examples. As a favor to you, the reader and potential viewer of the film, I have recorded here for you some of the rules it plays by. Some you will recognize as being rather familiar, almost trite and others new and unique. Don’t be fooled though, they all lead up to one inevitable conclusion: the movie is not worth howling over.
Rule Number 1: The first person to die must be a young blonde girl.
Funny how common that is, isn’t it? It must be a sad male thing. After all, how many thriller movies are written by women these days? Cry_Wolf makes it a point to kill off a blonde girl first, a murder that serves as the set up for a slightly original plot. The murder takes place in a small town which plays home to a boarding prep school full of jaded rich kids. Naturally, a group of unsupervised, bored teenagers with excess spending money is a recipe for demented mischief. A small clique who gather occasionally for midnight mind games in the campus chapel decide to up the ante by turning the murderer into a serial killer as part of a massive trick on the campus student body.
Rule Number 2: The clichés must be scarier than the plot.
Naturally anytime someone invents an imaginary serial killer, someone is going to have to take on that mantle and start killing people in a suspiciously familiar way. No exception to that rule here. Owen Matthews, a sweethearted transfer student with a troubled background is the latest to join the clique. He develops a little crush on the group’s ringleader, one strikingly red headed girl named Dodger. Bored with the usual games and her friends’ lack of imagination, Dodger joins Owen in writing and mass distributing a fake e-mail detailing the description and MO of the killer whom they dubiously name “The Wolf”. Not accustomed to the twisted nature of his newfound school buddies, Owen finds it harder and harder to figure out if the manifestations of the killer he invented are real or just another classmate ruse. Speaking of those classmates, it's good to see that the prep school has equal opportunity rules in place. If the clique’s make-up were anymore politically correct we would have to put them on a starship and call it Voyager: The Motion Picture
Rule Number 3: Never trust a girl who sleeps with the teachers.
Things become even more complicated for Owen when he discovers Dodger has been involved with his Journalism teacher, Mr. Walker. The twisted part about it is that Owen’s only reaction is to be heartbroken. No wonder kids these days are so confused with movies like these messing with their perceptions. Here’s a tip kids: if you find out your high school aged friend is sleeping with a teacher, don’t brood, tell the principal. Feeling like he can’t trust anyone, Owen’s world begins to crumble around him as the mind games become more and more intense. Well, intense from his point of view. For those of us in the audience it’s boring paranoia.
Rule Number 4: Murder chases are like movie theaters; when you’re in one, always remember to turn off your pagers and cell phones. Calls can be embarrassing, if not fatal.
I wasn’t at all surprised by all the familiar elements of a movie that is obviously aimed at a generation born with cell phones attached to their ears. I suppose I should have expected it, what with the title having an underscore and all. With all of the wireless phoning and instant messaging going on in the story it’s hard to tell whether Cry_Wolf is a movie or a 90 minute ad for Blackberries and AOL Instant Messenger (hey guys, I mentioned your products in my review…where’s MY kickback?). While all that techno-novelty may intrigue people under the age of thirteen (namely, those too young to see the film) it’s just another trendy concept for the rest of us making their presence more annoying than exciting.
Rule Number 5: You can’t be in high school unless you look like you’re 25.
As if the cell phones weren’t enough, the film takes further aim at its teenybopper target audience by setting the film in a prep school. Of course, all the high school aged characters are played by twenty-somethings who look like the cast of a porn film in those tight fitting school uniforms. The movie could have worked just as well in a college setting. The appearance of the actors would have been more believable and the faculty promiscuity a lot less disturbing if they had.
Rule Number 6: Be sure to twist the plot like a wet rag until every bit of predictability is squeezed out.
Unfortunately, the movie tries to twist and turn so much that you not only get tired of it, it starts to become predictable. Less than half of the copious twists actually caught me by surprise and they were mostly inconsequential to the actual story. There’s very little that’s actually frightening about the film as the director and writers seemed to have relied on very old tactics with new technological faces. As an example, the classic library hunt/chase scene is reduced to electro-hide-and-seek thanks to motion sensor fluorescent lamps that only light aisles where people are moving. Who knew energy efficiency could be so mind numbing.
Rule Number 7: When all else fails, cast Bon Jovi!
That’s right, good ol’ Jon Bon Jovi makes an appearance as the aforementioned Mr. Walker. While his performance isn’t bad, it’s nothing to get excited about either. If you didn’t know he was in it beforehand you might miss his presence though. It’s hard to recognize Jon in preppy sweaters with a GQ haircut. The other notable presence is the brilliant Anna Deavere Smith. Just what exactly she’s doing in the movie is a total mystery to me. Hey, Anna! You’re a really gifted actress! You can do better than Cry_Wolf!
If there’s one thing Cry_Wolf gets right, it’s the pacing. The movie may be laden with techno-crap and guessable plot turns, but it keeps right on moving, every now and again offering a minute tingly sensation that could be the beginnings of suspense. Driven by Dawson’s Creek-esque dialogue, there are occasional witty lines that give you enough chuckle to get through the next few minutes. The movie is essentially a sort of Scream rip-off for teens, except the villain wears an orange mask instead of a black hood. Too silly for adults, and too disturbing (that includes the teacher sex) for its target audience, Cry_Wolf is a hard drive lockdown with no system restore in site. Don’t bother rebooting.