Like the recent Pretty Persuasion, Jeff Wadlow’s soporific thriller Cry_Wolf surveys the effects of privileged youth with too much time on their hands and not enough conscience in their minds, with the mechanics of the slasher genre taking over for abrasive satire. The setting is posh Westlake Preparatory Academy, where Brit newcomer Owen (Julian Morris) is immediately catapulted into the “in” crowd led by Dodger (Lindy Booth), the archly named “campus queen.” Their high school is still shaken over the murder of a townie in the nearby woods, though to this bored circle (which also includes Jared Padalecki, Jesse Janzen, Sandra McCoy, and Kristy Wu), it’s only grist to the mill of their “Game,” a role-playing match where somebody elected as the “Wolf” has to abolish the “Sheep” via lies and accusations. Isn’t just smoking pot less complicated? Of course, the game is supposed to stand less for a late-night time-waster than a direct outlet for their free-floating teen anomie, with rules boiled down to “avoid suspicion, manipulate your friends, and eliminate your enemies.” From there, it’s only a step for them to raise the bar and incorporate the girl’s killing into play, spreading rumors about a serial killer loose on the grounds. Even more predictably, instant messages such as “be careful what you wish for” and “I ate your friend” begin to mysteriously pop up on Owen’s computer. Who’s behind the threats? Could it be Jon Bon Jovi, the teacher with a penchant for fucking cute female students? Or could it be the more-red-herring-than-a-seafood-restaurant creepy handyman carefully planted on the sides of the frame? The inevitable detour into tedious and-then-there-were-none territory is all the more dispiriting in light of some of the intriguingly undeveloped ideas: Too cynical to believe in supernatural furies, the jaded youngsters fabricate their own boogeyman—on a laptop, just one of the elements in the movie’s web of distancing technology (emails, cellphones, and eBay feature tellingly). The contaminating spread of suspicion (as well as the characters’ complicity in their own slaughter) carries hints of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s corrosive Le Corbeau, yet Wadlow and co-writer Beau Bauman quickly ditch intimations of moral ignorance for circumscribed PG-13 shocks and facile audience rug-pulling. A limp “Boy Who Cried Wolf” update for the Scream crowd, Cry_Wolf bamboozles viewers in ways that outdo even the characters’ interminable hoaxes.
- Jeff Wadlow
- Beau Bauman, Jeff Wadlow
- Julian Morris, Lindy Booth, Jared Padalecki, Jesse Janzen, Sandra McCoy, Kristy Wu, Paul James, Ethan Cohn, Jon Bon Jovi, Gary Cole, Jarvis W. George, Anna Deavere Smith
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