Jon Bon Jovi
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Cry Wolf (2005)
19th Mar 06
A liars club at an exclusive school spreads an email rumour about a campus killer. But the joke turns sour as they find themselves victims of their own hoax.
A pretty swift DVD release for first time director Jeff Wadlow’s teens in peril flick, which sneaked out theatrically a couple of months back, barely noticed. A high profile winner of the much trumpeted Chrysler Million Dollar Movie award for first time filmmakers Cry_ Wolf is - despite its trendy prep school setting and contemporary technological trimmings - essentially a very old fashioned whodunit, sort of Clue for the text message generation.
Brit newbie Owen (Julian Morris) arrives at affluent Westlake college with a rep for bad boy behaviour despite looking like a clean-cut wholesome boy band member. He immediately piques the interest of would-be bad girl and head of the school’s coolest clique– the preposterously monikered Dodger (Lindy Booth). A selection of bored rich kids who get their teenage kicks from playing mind games with each other in the school’s gothically underlit chapel – they call themselves the ‘liars club’, nominating a different member each time they meet to act as a liar or ‘wolf’ who must avoid being sussed out by the rest of the gang.
The discovery of a murdered student provides a sinister impetus for the club to take things further, upping the ante with an email rumour that links the slaying to a fictitious serial killer called yup, ‘The Wolf’. But when the wolf himself starts sending messages to members of the clique, suspicion initially falls on new boy Owen. Until he himself becomes a target…
As befits a film that won an award sponsored by a car company Cry_ Wolf is - despite its relatively paltry budget – an efficient, sleek machine, nice to look at but ultimately mechanical and cold. Wadlow and writer Beau Bauman have clearly had fun working through the (overly) complicated plotting, and Morris and Booth make for an attractive and unusual pairing. After the initial shock of hearing Morris’ English accent in this setting it actually works well in establishing him as an outsider. Shame it’s such a standard RADA poshboy argot.
However, the fact that the supporting characters are almost all conceited, loathsome fools totally enamoured of their rather feeble club meant that I found it increasingly hard to give a shit whether the wolf was real, hoax, a member of the clique or one of many possible suspects including Jon Bon Jovi’s rather lupine lecturer. Jovi to his credit is actually pretty good, despite an absurd wardrobe decision that requires him to wear tweed jackets with elbow patches and that trademarked feathered hairstyle that appears to be composed of part fiberglass, part shredded wheat.
Because Wadlow and Bauman take a clever, distanced approach, delighting in a series of red herrings and McGuffins, the dark promise suggested by the early part of the film is eventually frustrated by their shoehorning of all the intriguing, potentially scary elements – the use of technology, the dissection of the nature of gossip and slander – into standard thriller formulaics.
And for a film that prides itself on clever plotting and guess work it’s far too uneven. The early scenes suggest that Wadlow and Bauman may be taking their cue from Cruel Intentions – all rich kid ennui and faux sophisticated rituals. Then the movie slips comfortably into mid 90s diluted slasher mode in the style of Urban Legend, minus the knowing self-reverentailitry. Except somehow the tone is never sufficiently nasty enough. While it’s commendable for Wadlow to eschew the gore route and opt for more sophisticated chills there simply isn’t enough of a threat posed by the Wolf until a convoluted dénouement which suggests that Wadlow and Bauman’s film isn’t actually horror at all but a tricksy psychological thriller with a fairly risible twist.
A couple of scenes hint at the promise Wadlow clearly has as a director. A nicely judged suspense vignette in the library plays tricks with heat sensitive lighting, there’s an effective fancy dress party sequence which makes good use of the Wolf’s disguise (although they do assign him possibly the least frightening costume ever worn by a killer), and the way Beaman and Wadlow exploit the kind of technology that sees scriptwriters often come unstuck (texts and instant messaging) to spice up the story is believable and in one particular moment - where a girl sends a picture message to her man that has an uninvited guest in the background - really quite spooky.
This unrated cut has a few extended moments to justify the 15, something missing from the almost completely bloodless original theatrical release. The DVD package is actually a lot more impressive than the film. Wadlow is an enthusiastic, entertaining guy as we found out when EMB chatted to him earlier this year (Click here to read the interview) and his and Bauman’s yak track is contradictory and entertaining.
Even more impressive are their short films. Tower of Babble reveals the guy’s fondness for clever, inventive narrative and their Chrysler winning short Manual Labour is witty, concise and has a killer punch line. Both have more ideas and invention in their limited running times than the whole of Cry_ Wolf.
So why is this? Well, I guess if you had won the Chrysler comp you would probably be so buzzed about it that you would alter your original script on the advice of the film company bankrolling the flick right? Only I get the feeling that their original idea – Living the Lie set in LA amongst twentysomethings - would actually have made for a better movie. You can see why the execs thought that a campus setting would be more marketable and if this had been made around the comfortable, ironic slasher boom of the mid 90s, it would possibly impress a lot more. But were in the age of Aja, Roth and Zombie now - and in their company Cry_ Wolf looks well… more than a little bit sheepish frankly. There’s promise here, no question, but maybe next time Wadlow and Bauman should bare their teeth a little and keep those movie exec wolves from the door.