Ah, the pressures of high school…
…Get good grades. Fit in with the cool kids. Avoid being sliced and diced by the maniacal school mascot. You know, typical teenage stuff. At least that’s the case in writer/director Lee Ann Kurr’s feature debut slasher, Student Body.
Student Body follows Jane (Monste Hernandez), your average brainiac who wants nothing more than to fit in with the cool kids. So when Jane’s rebellious best friend Merritt (Cheyenne Haynes) and other cohorts decide to break into the school after hours for a pool party, Jane figures sure, why not? But the fun only lasts for so long before a killer shows up dressed like the Allendale Anvils mascot with a different sort of get together in mind. One that introduces their faces to his hammer.
Kurr’s film has an infectious energy right from the moment it begins. A banger of a soundtrack. Fast cuts. And a quirky sense of style that’s a little hokey but imbues Student Body with one of the most important elements in any slasher film: Fun. This isn’t a movie you can take too seriously. I mean come on, if you’re not getting a laugh out of the mascot’s goofy giant head that looks straight out of the Goldeneye game’s DK mode, you might not have a pulse.
Playing into that energy are characters with personalities that take control of every scene. Haynes nails the queen bish role with a “don’t fuck with me” attitude and purple lightning bolt earrings that say everything you need to know about her. Throw in tough, sporty chick Nadia (Harley Quinn Smith), dreamboat hunk, Ellis (Anthony Keyvan), and kind of dumb but hilarious Eric (with a surprisingly endearing performance from Austin Zajur), and it’s easy to see why Jane wants to be friends with these kids, even if they are kind of jerks to her. Student Body isn’t rewriting the slasher playbook here, loading up on stereotypical (though diverse) character tropes, but a witty script from Kurr with dialogue like “the man’s got a hard on for your derivatives” brings these characters to life and makes them their own.
Through Jane, Student Body cuts open the backpack of high school life and dumps out every awkward, painful, enraging piece of the teenage existence. BFF Merritt is constantly manipulating her and cutting her down for being a good student. “You can’t stay like this,” is arguably the nicest thing she says to Jane. Everyone puts an immense amount of pressure on Jane from both sides, with the kids making fun of her for applying herself and the adults claiming she isn’t applying herself enough. Eccentric creep Mr. Aunspach (Christian Camargo, who is indeed unsettling in the role) wants Jane to be more of a “hammer” and less of a “fiddle” (code for dumb kids). Jane’s dilemma is one we’ve all been in: Do I play dumb and do whatever it takes to make other kids think I’m cool, or do I just be myself? For a lot of us, and Jane, that’s a tougher decision than it sounds like.
While the characters aren’t all that well developed outside of engaging personality quirks, Student Body gets an A on thematics and the way in which it navigates teen life through relatable characters that are hard not to enjoy. Where it gets a big, fat F written in blood is as a slasher movie.
Student Body is much too focused on the drama and not enough on the slashing, with our killer not even making his first appearance until a little over halfway through the film. Audiences are like a class full of students. You can only ask them to be quiet for so long before they start to get anxious. The primary reason to watch a slasher is for the actual slashing, after all. It doesn’t get much better once the killer shows up, either. Repetitive kills, mind-numbing decision making from the characters and a by the yearbook approach sink Student Body into below-average slasher fare. Kurr introduces a “high-tech” security system into the school, a comment on the failing of adults to actually do anything to protect kids, but it hardly plays into the plot enough to set Student Body apart.
Extra credit though for plunging the second half into an 80s slasher aesthetic with colorful neon and a wibbly, wobbly synth score from Alex Liberatore.
Feeling a lot like a Disney Channel original—minus the crude, definitely not for kids language and some splashes of gore--Student Body isn’t the shiniest apple on teacher’s desk. With a below average GPA when it comes to the slasher elements and a plot that struggles to maintain interest, it certainly won’t make the honor roll. Student Body fails to cut through expectations of well-versed slasher fans, but for teens just breaking into the sub-genre and seeking something a little more adult, lively characters paired with timely messaging about the ridiculous amount of pressure that Gen-Z faces these days should make this, at the very least, an entertaining watch at the next sleepover.
Student Body comes to digital on February 8th from 1091 Media.
By Matt Konopka