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Cry Wolf
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Jeff Wadlow (director-screenwriter)
Genre:   Suspense/Horror
Released:   September 16, 2005
Review Date:   September 29, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

We’re going to make a killer. — Dodger

Ah, Rogue Pictures, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Seed of Chucky. Unleashed. Assault on Precinct 13. And, of course, Shaun of the Dead. Not a bad track record, my friends. This is becoming the studio to watch. Their latest offering is a little suspense flick called Cry_Wolf.

So here’s the skinny. Our hero is a British teen named Owen (Julian Morris), who has been sent by his well-connected dad (Gary Cole) to Westlake Prep School, after having been tossed out of a few other schools already. His dad’s connections have gotten him this last chance at having any sort of academic future.

When he arrives, he befriends a group of wealthy kids, led by the very pretty Dodger (Lindy Booth). This tight circle of bored rich kids, including art student Lewis (Paul James), jock Tom (Jared Padakecki), pierced rebel Randal (Jesse Janzen), Graham (Ethan Cohn), Mercedes (Sandra McCoy), and Regina (Kristy Wu), introduce Warren to their favorite game, Wolf. Dodger picks one of the group to be the Wolf, and the group has to figure out whom she selected. This seems like it would make for a really fun convention game, by the way. Owen manages to win, and annoys most of his new friends by doing so.

Deciding that they are bored with this game, the group decides to play a new version of it, based on a recent murder in the woods near the school. Owen writes up a story about how a serial killer called the Wolf stalks a different school each year and kills several students at Halloween, as the big Halloween dance is in a few short weeks. He then mass mails it to the entire school as a forwarded email that someone sent him. This sets off a frantic buzz in the school, to the delight of our teen leads.

The first downside to all this is that Owen uses his real email address, getting in trouble with his journalism teacher Mr. Walker (Jon Bon Jovi). He explains to Owen that the email made its way to the mother of the dead girl from town, and she’s highly upset. Walker reminds Owen that he’s on thin ice already, and if he screws up again, he’ll be kicked out of the school.

The next curveball is when Owen starts getting threatening instant messages from someone claiming to be the Wolf, telling him that he is going to kill Owen and his friends for sending out the email. At first, he and his buddies don’t believe it, but when one of them vanishes and a bloody piece of evidence is left on Owen’s laptop, they start to get nervous.

At this point, the movie becomes a whodunnit (and did it really get done) mystery. There are clues, red herrings, and twists as the teens try to figure out if there really is a killer among them, or if the whole thing is a gag. The director does a good job of laying out the possibilities — that one of the group has taken it too far, that the person who did kill the town girl is after them, or that it is all one really elaborate prank. The movie also makes heavy use of text messaging, both via phone and computer, thus the underscore in the title.

The tension in all the scare scenes comes from the standard slasher flick bit, “will the killer pop out and get them?” It’s also mixed with the “will this one be real or another prank” vibe that undermines the fear a bit. Still, in a few sequences, mainly near the end of the film when the stakes start to rise, the tension reaches an enjoyable level.

Acting-wise, it’s your standard batch of pretty young teens. Most do a passable job. Julian does a good job as Owen, and Gary Cole’s pretty much an extended fun cameo. The real standouts are both Lindy as Dodger and Bon Jovi. Both manage to be very compelling on screen and really surprised me. I think Lindy is going to be someone to watch.

In the end, Cry_Wolf is really more a mystery than a horror film. Most of the characters have a secret or two that are revealed, and it's more concerned with figuring out who the killer is than racking up a body count (which is really low when everything is said and done.) The end reveal is a nice piece of putting it all together. While enjoyable, it’s not quite as unexpected as the writer thinks it is — but he gets points for pulling it off successfully.

The movie is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, but I’d wait for DVD unless you’re really in the mood for some minor scares. The real fun would be convincing your friends to play the Wolf game afterward

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