**Editor's Note: Please welcome Jeff to the writing team in the comments!**
Trailers are a funny thing. Even a compelling trailer, like the one for recent release "Splice", runs the risk of revealing too much info to the audience and ruining the effect of a good plot twist. Of course, the incessant ‘highlight reel’ trailers that leave no third-act payoff to the imagination are no better. Rather than indulge in either vice, "Cry_Wolf" turns in a trailer that is a complete deception. Instead of the by-the-numbers high school slasher it's sold as, director Wadlow manages to turn out a flawed yet strangely appealing gem of a con-thriller with some classic noir elements. Despite appearances, "Cry_Wolf" is a closer cousin to Rian Johnson’s "Brick" than it is to last summer’s "Sorority Row" remake.
Owen (Julian Morris - speaking of "Sorority Row") is a new student at Westlake Academy. He’s got an absentee dad, a track record for getting into trouble and a history of falling for the wrong girl. He falls in with Dodger (Lindy Booth, who absolutely owns the movie) and his roommate Tom (Jared Padalecki, filling the CW actor quotient for the film) and, on his first night, finds himself kidnapped in the middle of the night and caught up in a game of “Cry Wolf” where one random student is marked as ‘The Wolf’ and must lie convincingly to keep the other players from guessing his or her identity. Owen impresses his new peers, with a rudimentary knowledge of poker tells that he probably got from a VHS copy of "Rounders", and in the process, inspires Dodger to cast her net wider and play mind games with the whole student body, not just her clique of friends.
And so Owen, hot to impress the popular, dangerous redhead, circulates a mass email about a fictional serial killer called ‘The Wolf’, portraying the actual unsolved murder of a local teenager as only the first of a series of grisly deaths. Of course, Owen claims to have gotten the original email from a friend who claims that similar events happened at his old school and is able to twist the complete non-presence of law enforcement into proof of a clandestine investigation in a feat of gamesmanship that might move Glenn Beck to tears.
Naturally, the student body panics and the rumor goes viral. Just as Owen starts to settle into a sense of smug superiority, though, he starts getting threats from ‘The Wolf’ via instant message, his room is ransacked, and his friends start disappearing.
The slasher, in its most recent evolution, is about fun and catharsis, all jump scares, creeping dread and poetic justice. Nobody goes to a slasher for dialogue or for a character study - sometimes they happen, but they are always bonuses. They go for plot and for gratuitous nudity and oceans of fake blood and the roller-coaster thrill of a well-made scene. While most slashers are terrible examples of art, the most entertaining of them are masterful examples of craft and part of the enjoyment of this movie is the appreciation of its craftsmanship. The nu-slasher is formulaic and manipulative. "Cry_Wolf" knows that. It exploits the audience’s expectations right into the series of twists in the final act that are nested one inside the next like a horror movie Matryoshka. In that way, "Cry_Wolf" is as metafictive as Scream, if not quite as deconstructionist.
I know, you’re reading this and going “what, are you high?” I know. And I’m not. I know that Julian Morris mumbles his way through the movie. I know all of those overlays of The Wolf are lame as hell and overused. I know that it’s light on eviscerations and its kills, such as they are, lack the inventiveness that worse films, like Gregory Dark’s monumentally bad "See No Evil", even manage to exhibit. I’ve watched "Cry_Wolf" maybe half a dozen times and it’s entertained me each time. It is the entertainment of watching the various Tetris-blocks of the plot spin and interlink. The fear of a movie with a major, game-changing twist is that it’s a gimmick, that you’ll see it once and be done with it. Call it the "Blair Witch" Effect. But "Cry_Wolf" might be more entertaining once you know what’s coming, which is a bit of a rarity in horror. "Cry_Wolf" is a movie that you likely haven’t seen because of its laughable marketing and derisive word of mouth, but give it a shot. It might surprise you.