Dir: Jeff Wadlow. US.2005. 90mins.
There are more twiststhan jolts in Cry_Wolf, the teen thriller whose script helped debutantfeature director Jeff Wadlow take first prize - a $1m production grant - in theChrysler Million Dollar Film Festival.
Wadlowproves himself a worthy winner of the competition (created by Doug Liman'sproduction outfit Hypnotic and co-sponsored by Universal), delivering a cleverand good-looking piece of high-school suspense.
Inthe commercial marketplace, recouping the meagre budget won't be a problem butthe movie's lesser-known cast and focus on intrigue rather than shocks couldmake it hard to win over more than a segment of the young-teen target audience.
RoguePictures, the genre arm of Universal's Focus Features, gave the PG-13-ratedfilm a 1,790-site US release last weekend, bypassing press screenings butbacking the launch with an elaborate Internet-based marketing campaign. Theresult was a healthy gross (albeit one slightly below some predictions) of$4.5m.
Outsidethe US, independent distributors - including the UK's Optimum - that havelicensed Cry_Wolf from Focus will need tocome up with similarly inventive marketing ploys to make the movie stand outfrom other teen chillers.
UKactor Julian Morris plays Owen, a handsome English misfit just starting atWestlake Prep, a co-ed US boarding school near whose campus a young woman wasrecently murdered. Owen falls in with the bright and sexy Dodger (Booth, from2003's Dawn Of The Dead remake) and her friends and joins in with theirlate-night game of deception in which one player, the 'wolf', has to hide hisidentity from the others.
AtOwen's suggestion, the friends expand their game by spreading an online rumourthat a serial killer called The Wolf committed the recent murder and couldstrike again on campus. When the predictions start to come true, the friendsfind their game - whose tactics are 'avoid suspicion, manipulate yourfriends, eliminate your enemies' - getting deadly serious.
Wadlow,who wrote the script with his producing partner Beau Bauman, sets the plot upwith a surprisingly confident hand, sketching background on Dodger, Owen, hisroommate Tom (Padalecki, from TV's Gilmore Girls and House Of Wax)and a friendly teacher (played by rocker-actor Bon Jovi).
Beforethe serial killing gets going, there are glimpses of Owen's difficultrelationship with his wealthy dad, dashes of school intrigue and, of course,the start of a romance between Owen and Dodger. The diversions keep the filminteresting but they will test the patience of teens raised on faster-pacedmodern slasher flicks.
Thepace gets more urgent in the second half and the story makes a number of twiststhat shift suspicion from one character to the next. It's not until the last 20minutes, though, that the film produces any gore, and even then it's prettytame stuff by current standards. The big last-minute twist is nicely deliveredand satisfyingly sharp.
Thefilm's weaknesses include some cliched dialogue and occasionally wobbly acting.But Morris and Booth are appealingly fresh faces - who, unlike many teenthriller cast members, actually look the ages they're playing - and eachcontributes a screen presence that helps sell the movie.
Themovie itself has a nice autumnal look (in classic genre tradition, the climaxcomes on Halloween night) and makes good use of locations on the leafy campusof the University of Richmond in Virginia.
Seth Lewis Gordon
Jon Bon Jovi