Cry Wolf

2006-10-02 13:49

A group of bored students at a snooty high school concoct a gambling game that tests their ability tell convincing lies. One student acts as the "wolf" and must conceal their identity from the "sheep" while players are voted out of the game each round. On his first night at the school, Owen (Julian Morris) proves his ability by winning the cash. But the gorgeous Dodger (Lindy Booth), their unofficial leader, is already bored. She has a bold plan - why not expand the game to include the whole school? They will be the wolves, and the other students their unwitting sheep. But how? Owen suggests they invent an imaginary serial killer. The recent unsolved murder of a girl in the nearby woods is the perfect spark for their Internet driven rumours and the school is soon abuzz with the "news" of a killer. But when Owen starts receiving threatening messages, he suspects they may have attracted the attention of a real killer.


As genres go, the teen slasher flick is about as narrow and well trodden a filmmaking path as you're ever likely to tread. Like porn it's only really about one thing - the money shot or scare - and only a master like Wes Craven could inject it with freshness the way he did with Scream. So when a tiny independent film by a pair of first timers sets out to challenge the status quo, you'd be forgiven for having doubts. Cry Wolf does just that and, unfortunately, proves most of the doubts right.

It's not that the film is shoddily made. It looks and sounds extraordinarily good for a film with the miniscule budget of $1 million. Director Jeff Wadlow shows a deft hand, despite his inexperience, and neither the performances nor the visuals are noticeably poorer than the legions of other much more expensive slasher films out there. Some of the action sequences are rather shaky in their execution, but nothing a bigger budget couldn't solve. He and writing partner Beau Bauman slaved for months to win the hotly contested Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival - the source of their funding - so there's no doubting their passion or their commitment. Neither is it the screenplay's fault. It may be rather too clever and precocious for its own good, with so many twists that we eventually become irritated, but it's far better than most of the other bloated and idiotic films that crowd the genre. Much of the dialogue sounds like something a real person might actually say, and the characters usually behave like intelligent human beings.

The heart of its failure is in the makers' quixotic ambitions. The film's publicity shouts very loudly about shaking up the genre and challenging the conventions, but in the end it only shows why those conventions exist. The makers misdirect so much energy into being different and clever that they end up missing the point of a slasher film: to scare people. For all their apparent simplicity, these flicks are extremely hard to make well. Neither Wadlow nor Bauman understand the mechanics well enough to do anything but unintentionally imitate their betters.

This is a real pity, because if these two can stretch $1 million over what should a $15 million genre flick and still make something vaguely watchable, then you have to wonder what they might do with a clever little art-house concept and some decent advice. Audiences don't care about ingenious cost cutting or the suffering you had to endure, they only care about what they see on screen.

In the end the film is guilty of the sin in its title - crying wolf. It wants so dearly to be the next Scream, but only succeeds in making a lot of fuss over very little. Audiences in search of a diverting two hours could do worse - at least the film tries to be original - but most slasher fans will be gravely disappointed by this overly clever little misfire.

- Alistair Fairweather
This overcomplicated little anti-slasher film does exactly what the title promises - shouts very loudly about nothing at all.

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