Thriller Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Blumhouse / Netflix
Directed by Dallas Jackson
Written by Dallas Jackson and Ken Rance
2018, 84 minutes, Not Rated
Released on April 14th, 2019
Jessica Allain as Lisa Walker
Mitchell Edwards as Ty Reynolds
Jason Woods as Chauncey Page
Mykelti Williamson as Detective Raymond Johnson
Pepi Sonuga as Kim Morris
RZA as Principal Hurd
Ah, the slasher film – the notorious subgenre most people undoubtedly think of first when they think of horror (especially the casual fan). From the truly brilliant examples (Sleepaway Camp, Scream, Halloween) to the high body counts / high naked flesh examples (Friday the 13th, The Slumber Party Massacre) to the utterly vanilla (I Know What You Did Last Summer), there’s a definite formula to follow in terms of pacing, kill variance, stereotypical characters, and even tone.
Formulas are a funny thing, though. Following one too closely can result in a creation that looks and tastes exactly like what it’s supposed to, but you find yourself saying, “This needs more (metaphorical) salt.” Cue the 2019 Blumhouse/Netflix slasher, Thriller.
Four years ago, a group of friends played a prank on poor, stuttering Chauncey Page. They lured him into an abandoned house using his crush, Lisa Walker, and attempted to corner and intimidate him with silly skull masks and chants. Chauncey responded by accidentally pushing one of them over a railing to her death. He’s sent away to juvey, and the group covered up the truth of what happens. Now it’s Homecoming, and the friends are preparing for the biggest night of their lives. There’s one (inevitable) problem: Chauncey is out and stalking them one by one.
Thriller is much more along the lines of I Know What You Did Last Summer than Halloween, to be sure. All of the elements that you need in a proper slasher are indeed there, but you’re getting a watered down version of a slasher that seems to be afraid of committing one tone. There are times, like Kim’s wacky conversations with herself in front of the mirror as she speaks for her dead twin sister, that you think it’s going to go the way of a twisty, bizarre style. Then the friends get together to discuss Chauncey and exposit the next piece of plot, and your brain is expecting Jennifer Love Hewitt to show up and start screaming “Show yourself!”
The Compton location gives Thriller a flavor that is not your average slasher flick. That’s a big plus; however, the flavor is quickly given away as a little too soft and pretty. I’m aware it’s not Boyz n the Hood, but the believability of most of these kids is nil. There are exceptions, of course – RZA has a nice turn as Principal Hurd and Pepi Sonuga (Ash vs. Evil Dead) shines in her embrace of the stereotypical girl of loose morals. Then again, it is the RZA! What did you expect?
Thriller can easily be a PG-13. You don’t have to saturate the screen with gore (see Halloween), but if you’re going to go the route of less is more, then you’d better bring a sense of menace to the proceedings. It’s ironic that there’s precious little to go around in a slasher film set in South Central L.A.!
That’s the crux, really. There’s nothing in particular done wrong according to the formula. The Jock, the Whore, the Despicable Bad Kids, The Sympathetic Nerd…they’re all here. There’s even a twist of (not so) epic proportions! Sadly, those magical spices that make up the flavor a quality slasher flick (be it zany, horny, gory, or intense) are all missing. It makes for a bland experience that doesn’t do it wrong but also doesn’t exactly get it right.
I get that there’s a bit of a message at play here, and Thriller works well in that regard. Your actions do have consequences, and bullying can get you killed if you’re not careful. None of that changes the fact that it’s a shame to see it played safe. Thriller could have been so much more.
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