Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Written by: Doug Liman and Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Julian Morris, Lindy Booth, Jared Padalecki, and Jon Bon Jovi

Remember the slasher movie? Ah…you’re probably thinking of Jason or Freddy right about now, aren’t you? They have become the face of this sub-genre, haven’t they? Well, before it turned into “the deformed, demented killer who can never die,” the slasher was simply another form of psychological thriller…albeit with a lot of blood and dismemberment. They were who-done-its rather than just how-are-they-gonna-do-its. These were films like Happy Birthday to Me, Prom Night, Terror Train, Night School, My Bloody Valentine, even the original Friday the 13th. The whole point of the film was trying to guess the killer’s identity. Sometimes it was obvious, but other times, the filmmakers threw in a lot of twists to keep us guessing. Cry_Wolf pays homage to these early days of the slasher film.

A young woman is found murdered in the woods—what was left of her body eaten by wolves. To fight boredom, a group of students from Westlake Preparatory Academy (led by Julian Morris and Lindy Booth) decide to frighten their classmates by creating their own brand of urban legend. They send out an email that states this was not some random act of violence, but instead the work of a notorious serial killer called “The Wolf.” Their goal is to get as many people as they can to believe the hoax is real. When the killing spree outlined in their email actually begins, however, the game becomes a terrifyingly reality. The students must now race against time to discover the identity of “The Wolf” before they become his next victim. Is it that creepy groundskeeper we keep seeing around campus? Then there’s the English teacher (Jon Bon Jovi) who loves his students…I mean, really loves them. Could it be him? Or maybe it’s someone from the group.

Cry_Wolf is the end result of a contest sponsored by Chrysler. Aspiring writer/director Jeff Wadlow was awarded a $1 million budget to make this film in exchange for prominently featuring the automaker’s product on screen. The screenplay he delivered with co-writer Doug Liman is hardly original. The teenagers all speak in that too-intelligent-to-be-real manner that plagues anything written by Kevin Williamson. The adults are all by-the-book authority figures who don’t understand kids and certainly don’t believe them. And the “is it real or prank” aspect of the story calls to mind such films as Killer Party and April Fools Day.

As routine as the plot may be, the film remains surprisingly unpredictable thanks in no small part to the editing by Seth Gordon. He keeps the action moving and the suspense mounting. Some of his montages are a bit overdone (as in the scene where the email spreads and we see characters talking on the phone to one another in multiplying split screens), but at the end of the movie, when the killer is finally revealed, Gordon shows us clips from earlier in the film—clues that we may have missed or overlooked, and it makes total sense. For the first time in a long time, the big twist is not a cheat.

Unlike the slasher films of old, Cry_Wolf keeps on-screen violence to a minimum (this is PG-13 after all). What it does have in common with those earlier films, however, is a great sense of fun. It’s suspenseful when it needs to be, and it keeps you guessing right up until the appropriately ironic finale.

3 out of 5 stars.