Sunday, January 27, 2019

You Might Be the Killer (2018)

You know the drill: a camp full of camp counsellors, a masked killer, physically improbable violence, self-conscious talk about the way slashers operate. But wait, don’t slink away yawning just yet, for Brett Simmons’s self-conscious slasher does actually have more than one good idea, and turns out to be a much better film than “ironic” slashers usually are. Perhaps because here, “ironic” isn’t a different way to write “lazy”.

Our protagonist and potential killer (see title, so nobody complain about spoilers please) Sam (Fran Kranz) reports the story of his very bad night at camp to his slasher-expert friend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan) over the phone while hiding from the killer (or is he?). He did actually call the sheriff before her, or really his voicemail, but the guy is old, has the voice of Keith David in grandfather mode, and really isn’t going to come around for hours at best. Chuck tries her best to help, but once Sam tells her of his curious lapses in memory and other incidences of the kind not wont to make a friend optimistic, she’s more the expert nerd delivering all the bad news. Let’s just say that definitely mild-mannered Sam just might have encountered a cursed mask, and just maybe do very bad things when he’s wearing it. And we all know what happens to the masked killer at the end of these films, right? So the story is until the final act when the timelines converge mostly told in flashbacks that aren’t necessarily trustworthy or in the right order.

At first, this approach, particularly with the film showing an actual body count on screen, seems rather too self-conscious and constructed but it quickly becomes clear that You Might Be the Killer actually uses this structure not only to point out how clever it is but to actually get a degree of suspense out of the samey genre that is the slasher. Sure, it says, we all know everyone of these guys except for the obvious final girl are going to die horribly, but let’s use our more self-conscious perspective on things to get a bit more into how all the deaths fit into the way the narrative is constructed. Yes, the film does indeed attempt to build a degree of suspense out of examining the way a slasher is actually put together; it also succeeds in this goal surprisingly well, mostly because it is indeed as clever as it thinks it is: that seemingly too-clever body count, for example, is not just as smug nod and the base for a couple of actually funny little gags, but also an actually clever way for the audience to orient itself in the flashbacks. So, obviously, the script by Simmons, Covis Berzoyne and Thomas P. Vitale has put rather a lot of thought into the structure of the film, even if it doesn’t appear that way at first.

But let’s get back to the gags, for this is, after all, billed as a horror comedy. Pleasantly, at least for my taste, it’s not one of these a joke every ten seconds affairs that tend to get tiresome fast. While there are some actual jokes, the film’s humour is based more on its general tone and its knowledge about the basic absurdity of the slasher genre, not so much making fun of as having fun with slasher clichés, avoiding to become a series of unfunny “funny” situations like for example the Hatchet films do by the simple power of good taste applied intelligently. It also helps that Simmons actually seems to like his characters and cares about their fates. So when it comes to post-slashers, the best comparison would probably be Final Girls, even though these are still two very different films.

Very much to its credit, You Might Be the Killer also manages to be fun horror film, never forgetting that the bloody business at hand is indeed supposed to be bloody, and that, even in a horror comedy, the actual supernatural threat needs to be threatening instead of clownish. Indeed, the killer and the mask are played perfectly straight, and there are a quite a few moments that are straightforwardly suspenseful. Simmons also really knows how to shoot a slasher-style wood and cabins set-up in Louisiana atmospherically; in fact, the way it is set up, there’s just a small step between this and a more traditional slasher movie, which makes the humour and the film’s perspective on the genre all the more effective.

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