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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Review: Extracurricular

Director: Ray Xue
Screenplay: Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango
Year: 2020

What can be more stimulating for young bright adolescents than to put their intelligence to the test in an intellectual challenge? Of course, the logical response would be sex, but we are talking about a horror movie. For the youngsters in “Extracurricular”, this stimulus comes from planning and executing elaborate plans for stalking and killing strangers, while they fulfill their school obligations.

A group of four friends spends time elaborating plans where they can stalk strangers in the scariest way possible for their victims to later kill them. After discussing the details of their most recent killing, they all decide to do it once more on Halloween night and then keep low to throw off authorities. The planning of their new strike becomes more complex than expected when their emotions and moral sense stand before their objective.

Although the premise of “Extracurricular” might seem from a horror-comedy, there is nothing funny about this movie that takes itself seriously and whose influence seems to lay in movies such as “The Strangers” and “The Purge” and that combination of anarchy and home invasion. Since the opening scene, we get to see the level of perversity from the young friends and the slasher style it follows, although this first scene is shy with the gore, something that improves substantially as it goes on. Also, from the beginning, we get to see the close relationship between the four friends and how this plays an important role in the rest of the development. 

The character development is one of this movie’s strengths, where we see all the action from the point of view of the perpetrators, and even so, director Ray Xue (“Transcendent”) and the script from Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango manage to create characters that, even when they are twisted, they are also likable. Keenan Tracey (“Polaroid”), Brittany Raymond, Spencer Macpherson (“American Gothic”), and Brittany Teo (“Arrival”) make the quartet of homicidal teens with good acting that makes the viewer get interested in the characters and their development. While the events of the movie get underway, emotions become more and more important in the plot and consequently, the acting becomes more important, a weight all of them manage to carry well.

Director Ray Xue not only does a great job directing his cast but also has a few creative secrets behind the lens. In several moments he presents interesting camera angles and tricks that enhance the artistic interest of the movie and separate it from the typical stereotypes of slasher movies. Among the tricks that Xue plays, the most interesting is over imposing the images that the protagonist sees in a laptop on a blackboard, which helps to see the protagonists as well as the images without needing to do confusing cuts and that helps keep a good rhythm in the development. 

Where “Extracurricular” presents a few flaws is in the screenplay, essentially in the motivation from the homicidal quartet for the actions they carry. While development and arc development that leads to the bloody ending is well crafted in its different stages, the motivation for the homicidal acts is simply inexistent, as boredom or intellectual challenge just doesn’t justify them. A good part of the development takes place considering the emotions of some of the characters, where the motivation to carry those acts is indispensable for the viewer to be able to understand that moral struggle and is a plot hole to large to ignore. 

“Extracurricular” is always aware of the common slasher tropes and use them in its favor to play with the viewer’s expectations to the point of even making reference to them and presenting the story from the point of view of the perpetrators and not from the victims. The perversity of the homicides is contrasted with their interpersonal relationships and their moral sense, although the motivation for their acts is never explicit and affects the plot development. Even though it’s an interesting story with fresh ideas in the story as well as in the technical execution of the movie.

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