Director: Jeff Wadlow
In the pantheon of slasher movies, one could argue that one of the most influential in recent years has been Scream. Directed by horror legend Wes Craven and scribed by Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson, Scream reinvigorated the slasher subgenre upon its release in the winter of 1996. And just as Halloween and Friday the 13th inspired numerous knockoffs and sequels in the '80s, Scream was followed by such postmodern slashers as Urban Legend, Valentine, and perhaps most famously, I Know What You Did Last Summer. While the slasher trend has cooled lately, another trend has been started in its wake. In the last few years, horror movies have been garnering more and more PG-13 ratings. While many of the horror faithful have been crying foul at the idea of their beloved (and traditionally R-rated) genre being "watered down" in order to pander to younger teenage horror fans who don't want their teenybopper sensibilities offended, PG-13 horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge have meant big business for Hollywood filmmakers. The postmodern slasher trend and the PG-13 horror trend finally crossed paths in the fall of 2005, a convergence that resulted in the PG-13 teen-friendly Cry Wolf. The movie didn't make much of a splash at the box office, but is that reflective of its actual quality? Let's find out.
Our movie centers around Owen Matthews (Julian Morris), a teenager with a checkered past who has just enrolled in Westlake Preparatory Academy, a swanky private school in Virginia. Upon arriving at campus for the first time, he is immediately introduced to and immediately smitten with his lovely classmate Dodger Allen (Lindy Booth). That night, he is invited by both Dodger and his roommate Tom (Jared Padalecki) to participate with a group of fellow students in their traditional "lying game." The rules of the game are similar to those of "Mafia", with each player lying and manipulating their friends in order to stave off elimination.
Owen effortlessly wins the game, and when he expresses his belief that something must be wrong if a newcomer can read a bunch of strangers like a book, Dodger is prompted to broaden the game's horizons. When they hear news of the body of a murdered young was discovered in the nearby woods, Dodger and Owen conspire to push the game one step further by getting the entire school involved. The idea: the girl is the victim of a serial killer dubbed "The Wolf," a killer that will soon strike again on-campus. They craft an image and a background for the Wolf, and send their prank to every e-mail inbox in the school.
But soon afterwards, Owen finds himself at the epicenter of some very unsettling circumstances. Beginning with the threatening online messages from someone calling themselves "Wolf," it increases to Owen finding a knife in his backpack during classes and a member of Dodger's club mysteriously disappearing. With confusion setting in and his journalism teacher Mr. Walker (Jon Bon Jovi) getting more involved, Owen tries to get to the bottom of what's going on. Is their make-believe murderer is a very real one, or is it just part of another, even larger prank?
Don't be worried if you haven't heard of Cry Wolf. The movie didn't exactly set the world on fire, never getting higher than fifth in the weekend box office rankings. However, the movie did make fifteen times its budget (a measly one million dollars) at the worldwide box office, so I guess you could call it a success. But one of the biggest knocks I have against the movie is its misleading marketing campaign. The trailers and television commercials presented the movie as a straight slasher flick, but in execution, being a slasher movie is secondary to Cry Wolf's attempts at being a "whodunit" mystery thriller. Maybe I'd have enjoyed the movie more if I knew exactly what I was getting when I started watching it. Come on, Cry Wolf. If you're gonna tell me that you're a slasher movie, you should have delivered. Promises were made! Expectations needed to be met!
If anything can be said about the movie, it's that the director at least has a little style. For someone making his feature film debut, Jeff Wadlow seems to have a lot of talent in making mediocre material at least look good. He and cinematographer Romeo Tirone make use of certain camera setups and movements that are creative and charming, and Wadlow utilizes a slow burn during the movie that is rarely seen in today's world of short attention spans and rapid-fire editing. But unfortunately, Wadlow's good direction could use a little improvement. I mentioned that he uses a slow burn, but the beginning of the movie moves almost TOO slowly. With the exception of the opening minutes, there are almost no suspense, no scares, or anything frightening at all for nearly the entire first act. They could have at least given us a little something, but we get nothing but Dodger being deceptive, Owen being confused, and their friends being goofy. I mean, I'd have accepted the clichéd "cat leaps from the shadows" gag after a certain point. And in a movie about a psycho killer, there is a surprising absence of any heavy violence and gore. I guess it's justified when you take the movie's ending into account, but it still feels like Cry Wolf's lack of blood is a way to pander to the more squeamish teenage viewers that comprise the movie's target audience. Meanwhile, Michael Wandmacher's score is competent, efficient, and downright tense at times. As a fan of movie music, I can't complain about it.
But what I can complain about is the script. Written by Wadlow and Beau Bauman, the script can be overly complicated at times, while at other times it is guilty of taking itself far too seriously. The plot oftentimes finds itself being messy, convoluted, and outright confusing. I have no problem with a movie being confusing for the sake of giving the viewer an emotional connection to the similar confusion of its characters, but Cry Wolf is confusing merely because its logic is hard to grasp. How does Owen not notice the knife in his backpack before it falls out? Why does he keep caring about this one particular girl after he finds out she's banging a teacher? Why does he hang out with any of the jerks and one-dimensional stereotypical losers in their little club of liars? Ugh, this movie makes no sense.
I should also point out that a portion of its twist ending is very painfully obvious. Upon watching it with a friend for the first time, both myself and my friend correctly guessed who the main culprit is just twenty minutes into the movie. If I'm gonna watch a mystery, I don't want to figure out who's behind it that quick. I'll watch an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? if I want that. Moving on to the cast, only a handful of them actually manage rise above mediocrity. Julian Morris is believable in his confusion and panic, and Lindy Booth's slick, mysterious demeanor makes the character work. Booth proves herself to be the highlight of the cast, giving Dodger a much-needed sly edge, not putting all of her cards on the table in order to work things to her favor. And believe it or not, Jon Bon Jovi isn't all that bad of an actor. That's not to say I want him to quit the music business in order to take up acting fulltime, but still. Jared Padalecki wasn't half bad either, but he should probably stick to TV shows on the WB Network.
I really don't know exactly how to feel about Cry Wolf, especially thanks to its twist ending. Every movie has to have a twist nowadays, and this movie is no different. Cry Wolf's twist comes off as being very similar to the somewhat unheralded '80s slasher April Fool's Day. Perhaps one could put forth that Cry Wolf is an April Fool's Day for the twenty-first century, but that's another argument for another time. When it's all said and done, I'm not exactly a fan of Cry Wolf's ending. I don't like movies leaving me with the feeling that I was cheated. And unfortunately, in spite of any praise that I give it, I don't think I'd say I was all that impressed by Cry Wolf. It had a whole lot of potential, but didn't live up to what it could have been. I can see it becoming something of a cult favorite among those who enjoy elaborate games of manipulation like those in the movie, but as far as I'm concerned, missing Cry Wolf isn't the end of the world. I'll give it two and half stars. It's worth a rental, but that's about it.
Final Rating: **½