From the moment where Dodger (Booth) and her friends gathered in the off-campus chapel to play an insipid game called "lies", I knew I was either too old, too jaded, or, quite frankly, too smart for CRY_WOLF, a thriller/slasher that plays out like a Goosebumps novel as interpreted by the cast of The OC.
Owen (Morris) is a Brit who's just transferred to Westlake Academy , a ritzy private school that looks like pretty much every other private school ever committed to film. His father (played in a strange sort of quasi-silent cameo by Gary Cole) has pulled a lot of strings to get Owen into Westlake as his son's less-than-model behaviour has gotten him expelled from just about everyplace else.
When Owen arrives, he meets Dodger (Booth), a radiant red head with an obvious knack for mischief that would do her Dickensian namesake proud. She taunts and teases with the best of them, but also has something of a dark side; one that surfaces when Owen, Dodger, Tom (House of Wax's Padalecki), and the gang all gather at the aforementioned chapel to play the lying game in which one of the students is marked as a "wolf" by the "Sheppard" (Dodger, of course), and the rest play the role of "sheep", guessing which student amongst them is the lying about his or her role in the game. Why no one instantly accuses Owen of being the wolf is beyond me as:
A) He's the new student.
B) Dodger was on him like a bad suit the minute he walked in the door!
C) He's a terrible actor.
Anyway, the game progresses until pretty much everyone is eliminated and sent home in a snit, leaving Owen as the "winner" and Dodger with her latest toy/project. The next day, Dodger and Owen concoct a new version of the game, using the recent murder of a "townie" as the inspiration for an e-mail scam telling the students of Westlake that a serial killer is now in their midst. They go so far as to create a name, look, and motive for the killer, and the school is instantly in a panic. The duo clue in their closest friends, creating scenarios in which each of them serve as victims of "The Wolf", and laugh as the rest of the student body now assume the role of the sheep.
However, when Owen gets a mysterious IM from someone claiming to be the real killer, he begins to suspect that his little prank may have very real consequences.
CRY_WOLF is a great looking film that suffers from a raging case of the PG-Thirteens. The plot is a rehash of the far superior April Fool's Day (if you've seen that film then you've pretty much seen CRY_WOLF), dumbed-down for the teenybopper set, and filled with twists so obvious that anyone over the age of fifteen will have this whole film figured out from the moment they see Dodger locking lips with her teacher, Mr.Walker (Bon Jovi).
The film is also a bit long in the tooth for such an otherwise lightweight affair, with next to nothing by way of action happening until nearly forty minutes in. Even then, we don't see anything, as this is purely PG-13 stuff (ignore the boasts about this being the unrated cut; you'll see more offensive material in an episode of Family Guy), with much of the violence implied. What little we do see is presented in a series of washed-out, CSI style edit sequences during the planning stages where the main players concoct each other's deaths.
Still, CRY_WOLF isn't a total loss. I was really impressed by the look of the film, with its amber hued representation of perpetual fall, and the gothic vibe of Westlake itself. I also enjoyed Booth's performance as Dodger. Not only is the actress easy on the eyes, but she lends a subtle complexity to her character. I was also surprised by Jon Bon Jovi, as he's developed into a really charming screen presence, and does a great job with a woefully underwritten character/red herring. Director Wadlow, who won a prize for his short films that led to him helming this picture, shows a great level of maturity for a "first-time" director, and frames each shot with a casual elegance that is a far cry from the manic, in your face intensity that has become the course de rigueur for the modern horror film.
The DVD from Rogue is packed with the extra features this arm of Universal has bestowed upon all of their releases, including a commentary track, a casting featurette, short films, deleted and alternate scenes, and more.
I don't mean to sound like some sort of wizened film snob, but CRY_WOLF is a film that is obviously aimed at those younger viewers who haven't seen a whole lot of films in this particular genre. For those who have, this movie will actually amaze you with its predictability, but, at the same time, the quality of the production is undeniable, and I'd really like to see what Wadlow could do with a more mature (and original) piece of material.