The slasher genre has gone through several incarnations over the years. From the character-based franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) to the meta horror pioneer, Scream, (1996) to the slew of remakes and reboots, there really hasn’t been a time when slashers weren’t relevant in some capacity. It’s still an oversaturated genre, but you won’t find me complaining about it...
...It is, however, harder to not expect the expected when we’ve consumed so much slasher cinema. Pure originality isn’t always necessary to make a good horror film, but it can help. Director Eric Liberacki and writer John Lerchen have teamed up to try their hand at the slasher genre with The Lurker. With Liberacki’s exceptional cinematography background, the film is undeniably a looker, but substance is always needed to support style. The other way around is a mistake made all too often.
After a high school faculty member is murdered during a student play, it’s not long before more people mysteriously go missing. The story is centered around Taylor (Scout Taylor-Compton) and her closest girlfriends. Taylor is wrought with guilt and anxiety over a secret that she fears will become known by her classmates. Living in fear of a destroyed reputation, Taylor is untrusting of her friends and generally unstable. She is also being preyed upon by one of her theater classmates who is so resilient in his pursuit that its become abusive. In the background of our high school melodrama are disappearing students. With the threat of another school murder hovering in everyone’s thoughts, Taylor seeks answers even if it kills her.
In many ways, The Lurker is a classic “whodunnit.” It has all the familiar beats, like the handful of characters who are outwardly suspicious, teasing the audience with little crumbs of info that imply multiple suspects. All the tropes are in attendance here, but they make good use of them. With a mystery like The Lurker, I actively try to blind myself from the twists, turns and shocking endings so that it’s a more effective reveal. That’s not to say I stare dumbly into the screen with my brains at the door, but I like to get spun up in the web of it all. Yes, the tropes are familiar, but the reveals themselves are pretty cleverly laid out. What I like most about the film, is that it manages to blend teenage melodrama and horror in a way that includes the viewer on a very personal level. During Taylor’s emotional rollercoaster, I became involved and felt like I was a student being swept up in the kind of drama I used to partake in. They felt like real high schoolers by how cruel some of the girls were. There are definite pacing issues in the film. It starts off a tad on the slow side, meandering a bit until about midway through, when the urgency is finally felt. I wouldn’t call the script “tight” but the loose nature of the story does allow us to get very familiar with the characters.
On a technical level, this film is proficient in almost every way. The cinematography is excellent and goes above and beyond of what it probably needed to do. Every shot is framed with intent and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least large sections of the film were heavily storyboarded. Set design and on-location shoots were appropriately transformed to look like suburbia. Also, the high school looked genuine and lived in. The violence in The Lurker is spread out but the special effects for each kill looked incredibly real and raw. I do wish the shots had lingered just a tad longer so their work could be fully appreciated, but what we’re given is very effective. One aspect I didn’t really care for was the music. It has that John Carpenter style simple synth sound. While I enjoy electronic music immensely, (especially old Carpenter scores) I am frankly a bit tired of the homages. I think Misha Segal is a good composer, but this score is just a tad too self-aware and pleased with itself. It took me out of the film at first, but I will say it does taper off eventually and I appreciated the subtlety when it could have easily gone the bombastic heavy-handed route.
I’ve always been a massive fan of Scout Taylor-Compton. Her performances are always electric, and this is no exception. My introduction to her was in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007). I could go off on a tangent about why I think her portrayal of Laurie Strode is underrated, but I’ll spare you. She has a charisma that’s not often seen in horror films and not in a superficial, clearly identifiable way. She can play scared and anxious just as well as she can play a femme fatale. I won’t ignore the fact that Compton is 31 years-old playing a high school girl, but somehow it works. She has a particularly youthful look and her interaction with her friends comes off as natural. I did not, however, like what they did with her character at the end of the film. It ends up betraying her character and us as the audience. Still, her performance shines brightly. The young girls she acts alongside with range from good to acceptable. Isabel Thompson, who plays Hannah, the sarcastic, quick witted friend is particularly good. Her character seemed to embody a sense of confidence and was easily more memorable than Taylor’s other friends.
The Lurker is kind of a mess structurally, but to be perfectly honest, I kind of liked that about it. Because the script isn’t a tight, tidy affair, it allowed the film to draw out its moments and focus on the characters. It suffers from a lack of urgency at times but the emphasis on really getting to know Taylor is mostly why the film worked for me in spots. It feels original not because of the plot’s mystery, but because of what the film chooses to prioritize. Instead of Taylor being a sketch of a character, she’s given the space to feel real. It has a fun mystery, kills and gore and familiar beats but everything surrounding that is original. Despite the disappointing ending, the journey there is a delight, in all its high school drama glory.
The Lurker is now on DVD/Digital from Indican Pictures.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth