Reel Opinions

Monday, October 31, 2005

Cry Wolf

If one were to watch only the trailers for the new thriller, Cry Wolf, one would not be blamed for assuming that this is a throwback to the mid to late 90s when various Kevin Williamson-inspired teen "thrillers" raided theaters. That was certainly my impression when I saw the WB-style cast being stalked by what appeared to be a psycho killer in an orange ski mask. However, this ad campaign is very misleading. What co-writer and director, Jeff Wadlow, has given us instead is a study of fear and its effects on people. This is not exactly a psycho killer film, as technically, there's no psycho killer to be found. No, I have not forgotten the guy with the ski mask, and yes, he does appear in the film. Cry Wolf obviously wants to be more than your standard teen stalk-fest, and for this, it is commendable. What's less commendable is how the movie tries to jerk you around in so many directions that by the end, I felt more frustrated and exhausted than entertained. Cry Wolf seems to be trying to make a point. Unfortunately, due to its muddled screenplay, the only message I can make out is "snobby rich kids suck". Like I didn't know this before walking in...

The action begins when British exchange student, Owen (played by Julian Morris) arrives at a posh, private high school for rich kids after he got expelled at his last school. He quickly befriends a young girl named Dodger (Lindy Booth) and her group of wealthy, snobby, stuck up, jerk friends. From what I gather, these kids don't do anything but talk about how much life sucks, insult each other, and play very mean-spirited and cruel pranks on each other. This "likable" bunch have gotten bored with pissing each other off, and Dodger gets a new idea - they can piss off the entire student body, and scare the crap out of them too in the process! The other kids don't know how they could pull off such a feat. Fortunately, Owen's here, and he's heard about this newfangled invention called The Internet and E-Mail. (I'm serious, the kids in this movie act like they've never even heard of e-mail before Owen brings it up.)

You see, as we learned in an opening sequence, there was a teenage girl who was murdered in the woods near the campus by an unseen killer. Owen decides that his new friends and him can use this fear to start their wacky mischief. They send out a mass e-mail to every student in the school about this fictional serial killer who they dub "The Wolf". They create an elaborate background story about a series of murders that have happened in different cities, similar to the death of the girl in the woods. The jolly pranksters get a good chuckle as the e-mail spreads throughout the campus, spreading fear throughout the student body. And to top it all off, Dodger seems interested in Owen! Ah, creating mass hysteria and falling in love - life is good for Owen!...

...Or is it? Wouldn't you know it, it seems that someone has decided to take advantage of the fear gripping the school, and is now going around dressed exactly like this Wolf character described in the e-mail, and is starting to send threatening private messages to Owen's computer. Owen suspects he's being pranked by his group of friends until one of them disappears under mysterious circumstances, and bloody pieces of jewelry from said friend starts popping up. Is this all some elaborate plan for someone to get back at Owen, or has whoever murdered that girl a couple days ago decided to use his lie to his or her advantage? And who could be behind it all? Is it the elderly janitor who is seen in many scenes just glaring at Owen at his friends for no reason at all? Is it Owen's teacher (Played by Jon Bon Jovi. Yes, THAT Jon Bon Jovi.), who seems nice enough, but also seems to have a shady side, and an unhealthy attraction to certain female students in his class? Or does the film have an even dumber and more complex solution in mind?

You can certainly see what the goal was during the making of Cry Wolf. It's quite obvious that the film was intended to be a study of fear, rather than your standard masked killer movie. It simply uses some of the cliches of the stalker genre to its advantage. There are many scenes where the characters talk about fear. What it is, what scares people, and what happens when a lie becomes the truth. As I'm sure you can judge by the title, the film was intended to be a modern day thriller retelling of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf". Everyone knows that Owen sent the e-mail, and they know about his troubled history in other schools that he's been kicked out of. Therefore, when he begins to be stalked by the mysterious killer, no one believes him. This is certainly an interesting idea, and it has numerous possibilities for it to work as a premise. Unfortunately, the screenplay is not smart enough to make it work. In fact, it seems as if the writers just thought they were oh so clever with this stuff that they kept on piling it on, not knowing when to stop.

Yes, Cry Wolf ultimately collapses under its own weight as it becomes increasingly complex by throwing shady character after shady character and piling on layers of plot twists until the movie just cannot support itself anymore, and the viewer starts to feel like the movie isn't playing fair. What beings as a semi-intriguing expose on fear and its effects on people quickly degenerates into a teen horror story that's as ludicrous as those horror books aimed at preteens that used to be so popular. I'm trying very hard to avoid stepping into spoiler territory here, but we ultimately discover that the movie pulls the rug out from under us, revealing that everything was not real, not even the fear. If you were pissed off by the ending of The Village, than Cry Wolf is gonna leave you walking out of the theater in a howling rage. By the time the end credits started to roll, I almost wished they had gone with the standard psycho killer route. It would have been more interesting, and besides, I really wanted these snobby jerks to meet bloody ends. This is one movie where I was rooting for the killer. Too bad the conclusion can't even give us that satisfaction.

The performances are about as good as can be expected in a film like this. The kids are your typical, angst-ridden "pity us, we're rich" schmucks that make you hate them from the moment they walk on screen. They do their job well if their intention was to make us hate them and want to see them get slaughtered. The adult characters are completely forgettable, though, and are mostly there to arouse suspicion. Jon Bon Jovi is able to come across as a teacher without being laughable at least. Although, if they had to cast a former 80s rocker in the role, couldn't they have cast David Lee Roth? That way, they could use the song "Hot For Teacher" when it's revealed he has an unhealthy relationship with one of his students. Character actor Gary Cole is pretty much non-existent in his minor role as Owen's father. He's in, I think, four scenes total, and three of those four scenes simply involve him picking up a telephone and immediately hanging up, then cutting to the next scene. Hope they didn't pay much for him...

Cry Wolf is the kind of movie that fools you into thinking the filmmakers are going to be daring and try something different only to follow it up with a conclusion that is best compared to the director spitting a giant goober in your face and laughing. Sure, the world didn't really need another teen slasher thriller, but it certainly didn't need this, either. It's not the least bit scary, and really just leaves you feeling screwed in the end. This is one of those movies I'm glad I saw by myself in a completely empty cinema. It gave me ample opportunity to speak out against the film as it drew to a close. Cry Wolf is not a painful movie to sit through. Just an annoying one.

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