Hmm, you remember when Scream came out pretty much running through all the standard slasher movie clichés and making it nearly impossible to take an 80s slasher film seriously? Remember how everyone thought it would bury the genre forever? And remember when that didn’t happen and the entire genre got resurrected? Well that’s where this film comes in. This was one of the many post-modern horror films that acknowledged the criticisms that Scream made and reconstructed the slasher genre. This holds up as one of the better modern teen slasher flicks today.
Meet four young teenagers graduating from high school – Julie, Helen, Ray and Barry. The night they’re driving home from the beach they accidentally crash into a man crossing the road. Terrified of what will happen if they go to the police, they agree to dump the body in the sea. However as they push the body, the man’s arm moves and the four friends know that now they are guilty of murder. One year later Julie receives a note from someone claiming to know what they did. While they try to track down this mysterious person, he starts to stalk them even further before he finally makes his move.
Probably the most notable change in pace from the typical 80s slasher movie formula are the characters; we really don’t have an obvious survivor or obvious victims. Julie seems like she could be the Final Girl but Helen seems like she could maybe survive as well. Julie isn’t some sweet virginal good girl while Helen isn’t a party-crazy slutty bitch. The boys aren’t as more defined but Barry is given a bit more depth as, despite being an asshole for most of the movie, he is shown to have redeeming qualities and be a bit more realistic. This characterisation helps to leave us in doubt as to who will die and who will survive. Also another good element is (like Halloween) that the killer doesn’t go in for the quick kill when he has the chance, like when he’s alone with Barry and Helen. He builds tension and suspense, which is hard to do in a genre where everyone knows the formula. Obviously Kevin Williamson writing the script helps considering his best work includes other successful modern horror films like Scream 1 & 2 as well as Halloween: H20.
Let’s talk about our four young actors; in a strange example for a slasher film, the two girls are the main characters, or at least they get focused on the most. Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Julie and Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Helen. In an interesting note, while shooting this film Miss Gellar was also doing season 2 of Buffy. So it was probably a bit of a job for her to switch between the tough Buffy and the meek Helen. She’s quite a likeable character and the poor girl really does go through a lot – there’s the whole body thing, she tries to make it as an actress and is forced to work for her bitchy and jealous sister, not to mention Barry dumps her between the two summers. Miss Hewitt of course plays a Final Girl pretty well and I believe this was only her second big film role. Ryan Phillippe plays Barry and, despite playing an asshole, is just funny to watch. The ladies get an eyeful as he has a shower scene that has no relation to the plot. There is an odd one out in the fantastic four and that is Freddie Prinze Jr. I don’t know how I can say anything without sugar coating it, but he sucked. His delivery of his lines was just wooden and half-assed which is a shame because the other three young actors were so entertaining. Some other familiar faces you might recognise are Johnny Galecki (aka Leonard from The Big Bang Theory), Anne Heche and Bridgette Wilson. They all do well with their small roles, and much better than the aforementioned Freddie.
One of the main points that makes this film work is, as mentioned above, the way the tension is built. Having the killer in the Fisherman suit was a nice touch, with the film being set in a fishing town. The parade scene works pretty well with several people in the suits and Helen being unable to do anything about them. Another scene that is especially creepy is Helen walking through her house and going about her business when the killer is sneakily inside without her even knowing. You’re almost screaming at her to get out of her room while the killer is hiding in the closet. Sarah Michelle Gellar really does get the best scenes in this film as her eventual chase scene is one of the best in slasher movie history. I’d say it rivals Laurie’s chase scene from Halloween. It’s really an excellent piece of direction and because of the way Helen is written you want her to make it and so you care about her. The music helps as well.
And Julie’s chase scene is almost as well done. I don’t know if any other film has had a chase scene done on a boat (well apart from Cape Fear) but it was pretty fun, especially the way the body reveal scene was done. And yes getting Jennifer Love Hewitt into a tight white tank top crawling around in ice was much appreciated. The only element that was a bit out of place and didn’t really help was the body being found in Julie’s trunk considering it gets moved pretty suddenly and leaves a bit of a plot hole. I wasn’t too crazy about the whole thing
with Helen’s hair either.
So you have a pretty polished genre piece here and a top notch script from Kevin Williamson. The sequel was alright, if a little too gory but of course not good enough to make it to my list. I’d put this up there with the some of the best horror films in the last few years. Like Scream, it gave us some Genre Savvy characters who acknowledged trends from other films while still inventing new and creative ways to off people. I still enjoy watching Helen’s chase scene because it really is a great example of direction. I know what I’m doing for the rest of this summer, so don’t forget to read the rest of my entries and follow me on Twitter. Later days...