Newly enrolled at an American private school to escape a troubled past, British teenager Owen Matthews (Julian Morris) befriends foxy redhead Dodger (Lindy Booth). At Dodger’s request, prank-loving Tom (Jared Padelecki) brings Owen into their late night social club where they and other bored, privileged students entertain themselves by spinning elaborate lies. Intrigued by Owen’s knack for discerning fact from fabrication, Dodger suggests expanding their lying game. After a young woman is found murdered in the woods, the group hit on the idea of scaring their classmates by spreading rumours on the web that a serial killer dubbed “The Wolf” is on the loose. By describing the Wolf’s next victims, Owen and his friends set out to convince as many people as they can and see if anyone can spot the lie. Then Owen receives a threatening e-mail from someone claiming to be the real killer.
Following the postmodern tomfoolery of the Scream series, slasher movies segued into a dispiriting, if predictable cycle of remakes and pastiche efforts devoid of invention or substance. While not without its flaws, Cry_ Wolf stands out by virtue of attempting something different from the usual irksome scenario of nubile teenagers hacked to bits by homicidal prudes. A modern variation The Boy Who Cried Wolf story, this began as a short film called Living the Lie that debuting director Jeff Wadlow and writer-producer Beau Bauman subsequently expanded to feature length upon winning a prize at the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival. Predictably dismissed by mainstream critics as another hackneyed teen slasher, the film won few fans among the horror crowd either by virtue of being almost completely bloodless.
It helps to look at this as a teen mystery thriller rather than a slasher as the film delivers far more satisfyingly on that level. Nonetheless, given the slasher genre has its roots in urban myths such as the oft-told cautionary tale “The Hook”, the concept of teenagers terrorised by a paranoia wrought by their own lurid imagination is a potent one. The premise has more possibilities than are ultimately explored, however in its stronger moments musters a fairly pleasing critique of the abuse social media and how easily people can be manipulated by pandering to their morbid fascination with violent death. Wadlow has an arresting, though not overly flashy visual style. His tight direction yields some admirably suspenseful sequences without recourse to gore while smart, snappy dialogue coupled with solid performances add a further note of distinction.
There are some curious casting choices. Gary Cole is awkwardly cast as an Englishman, though it is his familiarity as an actor, not any deficiency in his performance that strains credibility. On the other hand, Jon Bon Jovi is surprisingly convincing as a college professor who may or may not have a few skeletons in his closet. British born Julian Morris and co-star Jared Padelecki - who became something of a genre staple landing leads in such horror remakes as House of Wax (2005) and Friday the 13th (2009) and headlines cult horror television series Supernatural - handle their roles ably, but it is arguably Lindy Booth’s dexterous performance that proves a key component in keeping the viewer guessing as to what is really going on here and who is telling the truth, right up until the satsifyingly twisted denouement. On that basis, Booth’s reunion with Wadlow on Kick-Ass 2 (2013) sounds quite promising.