Have you ever been flipping through your catalogue of movies or been scrolling through the offerings on a streaming service and come across a teen slasher and said to yourself, “What if, now hear me out, they made this same movie, but from the perspective of the killer? And what if that killer was actually four killers?...
...And what if two of those killers were a couple and the other was a lesbian that the fourth killer was unrequitedly in love with,”? No? Well, worry not. Writers Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango and director Ray Xue have you covered with Extracurricular.
The film follows Miriam (Brittany Raymond), Ian (Spencer Macpherson), his brother Derek (Keenan Tracey), and Jenny (Brittany Teo), a squad of full-time students, part-time killers, possible lesbians, sometimes lovers, and always brothers. We meet them in a late-night diner, empty save for a solo waitress. Here they discuss, loudly I might mention, upcoming school assignments and responsibilities, you know, to let us know these are high school kids, and their recent violent murder of a couple on a romantic cabin-in-the-woods getaway. It’s clear immediately that the banter is meant to be witty, playful, and meta á la Scream. They examine the murder, dissecting what worked, what didn’t, what could have been better, talking through the beats and emotions with the electric and dewy fervor of a television writer’s room in sync. Too bad it’s a CW writer’s room.
Over the next several days we get to watch the gang have countless open discussions planning their next murder (it’s going to be on Halloween guys, *squee*) and reminiscing about slayings past in such varied and populated locations as: the high school halls before class, the high school halls between class, actual high school classrooms, and the high school library. Teacher’s lectures about historical and literary killings are inserted, forcibly, as a means to put the gang into situations where they openly discuss and reflect on the moral implications of violence and sub(?)textually their own choices.
Miriam is quickly fingered as the weak link in the chain as she seems to be the closest among them to actually being in touch with empathy. Her dance aspirations and budding sexuality tell us so, naturally. She’s got ambitions, and dancers/lesbians don’t kill people, not forever anyway, and even when they did do it, they were just kidding. And this brings me to one of the points about using killers, especially multiple teen killers working together, as protagonists. There’s no dogma. There’s no reason for them to have come together as killers. And any possible thread you could have built that might connect them as psychopaths or even angry kids lashing out would have to have been built with character work. If you don’t have a dogma then you need to lean fully into comedy or horror. Neither exists in enough abundance here to carry the film. The only comedy to be found here is that these kids haven’t been caught.
What makes Extracurricular’s failure disappointing is that it has at least a few successful predecessors whose examples could have served as a guiding light for the filmmakers but seem to have been ignored altogether. Horror fans will likely recall the 2006 indie gem Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, about a documentary film crew that follows a serial killer, detailing every step of his process from victim selection to execution. It plays like early Christopher Guest with the grisly details handled with casual earnestness that wrings poignant subtext and humor out of nearly every moment. American Psycho is another that adopts the as-told-by-a-predator lens, and is likely the best-known example and leans heavily on the insight and creep factor of following Patrick Bateman. It keeps the proceedings engaging and interesting. Unfortunately Extracurricular seems to have fallen asleep in class.
Extracurricular does a decent job of cribbing the lip-biting jaded self-awareness that often comes from clever adults speaking through the mouths of teens, but with little of the finesse that makes it successful in other ventures. In one scene the gang argues about how they intend to execute their Halloween night murder where suggestions are made that lend the event some thematic coherence to which Derek replies, “Fuck coherence, it’s all about chaos.” The screenwriters’ motto it would seem. It’s a try-hard of a film that you wish would just take a shot or five and see where the night takes it instead of telegraphing every moment and trying to make it seem like it hadn’t. Herein lies the chaos.
It becomes clear that the filmmakers want the best for their subjects, even if the audience doesn’t. But I’m ready to root for killers. I gave Dexter seven years of my life, I’m clearly willing to root for the killer. I was ready to embrace these juvenile assassins played by whole ass adults, but instead got what amounted to actual teens. Messy, over-confident, and hormonal. Instead of a solid block of expensive cheese, with flavors rich and nuanced, I got a block of basement swiss, full of holes and with a lot of hot air running through it.
Extracurricular takes the ultimate test when it lands on VOD on January 17th, 2020 from Samuel Goldwyn Films.
By Paul Bauer