Extracurricular opens with an all-too-familiar slasher movie setup; a happy couple rolling up to an isolated cabin in the woods for a weekend they most definitely will not survive. Sure enough, within mere moments, four intruders wearing hip, light-up fluorescent masks (reminiscent of the killer’s mask in Slasher Solstice — the first of many knowingly great reference points) show up and dispose of them. We then shift focus to four teens sitting in a diner not unlike Riverdale‘s Pop’s as they discuss that very same cabin.
It’s not spoiling anything to say that Extracurricular shifts focus here in a major way by revealing that these kids are actually the same four murderers from before, and that this is something of a hobby for them (hence the title, which appears onscreen, hilariously, after the big reveal). Our antiheroes, then, are Miriam, Derek, Ian, and Jenny, four overachievers who, when they’re not studying for the SATs or taking part in various other high school activities, are planning elaborate murders just for fun. As with any group activity, some of them are more into it than others and tensions soon arise accordingly.
Extracurricular is only the second feature from Ray Xue, while the script is the debut effort from writing team Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango (another film listed on IMDb is stuck in developmental hell), but it shows a remarkable amount of control of tone and a deep understanding of the machinations of slasher and home invasion movies. The deliciously dark premise is established immediately, so there’s no time wasted wondering who’s doing what. The relationship between the four central characters is what powers the story, so it’s imperative we understand who they are right away.
At first, they seem like two couples but it’s gradually revealed there’s more to at least one of the four than is at first apparent. Still, they’re all well-developed in their own right, from Bates Motel star Keenan Tracey’s Derek, who looks like baby Chad Michael Murray but has more darkness lurking underneath the surface, to his brother Ian (Spencer Macpherson), who’s warned by a well-meaning teacher that “adolescent testosterone and Nietzsche are a dangerous combination” and whose narrow-eyed response suggests the poor man isn’t long for this world as a result.
Complicating matters considerably, Derek and Ian are the sons of the local sheriff, played by a brooding Luke Goss, so they have an extra level of danger to their extracurricular activities. The ladies, meanwhile, comprise seemingly kind-hearted Miriam (newcomer Brittany Raymond, giving it everything she’s got) and wildcard Jenny (Brittany Teo, excellent). Typically, high school movies pigeonhole Asian characters as studious nerds but Jenny is the hardest to read out of the bunch. A rich girl with a flashy car and parents who clearly don’t care, she’s got the most freedom out of the bunch.
What drives these kids to murder, and what pulls them apart, is consistently surprising. Extracurricular moves fast, like teens instant messaging each other so quickly they can barely get the words out. It’s shot moodily, like Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight, while the jet black comedy comes from the group’s commitment to, and incessant planning to the last detail of, their so-called jobs (juggling murder and school is hard, you guys). Essentially, every element of it screams “TEENAGERS” so the film never feels like a bunch of adults sitting around freaking out over what those damn kids do behind closed doors.
The core group might be psychopaths (one of them has the click sounds turned on on their phone — a clear sign someone is a serial killer) while another has a pet scorpion (making her a literal scorpion woman) but they’re still just young people trying to figure out the world around them (someone gets shot due to being distracted by an incoming message). Extracurricular wouldn’t work as well as it does if these kids weren’t somewhat likeable, or if their motivations were entirely clear at all times. Alliances may be obvious early on, but there are plenty of surprises once things inevitably go wrong for them.
See Also: Satanic Panic [Frightfest 2019 Review]
The film is being described as a mix between Tragedy Girls and You’re Next and while it lacks the razor-sharp feminist commentary of the first and the relentless violence of the latter, it does boast elements of each along with a ton of references to other movies (hilariously, by way of masks chosen for a big job). At its core, though, Extracurricular is like Riverdale if it had the balls to go properly dark, or if it was less concerned with selling Funko Pops. Dark, funny, thrilling, and loaded with YA menace, this is a refreshingly modern take on typical slasher tropes that sticks the landing without having to go anywhere near the big dance.
WICKED RATING: 8/10
Director(s): Ray Xue
Writer(s): Matthew Abrams, Padgett Arango
Stars: Keenan Tracey, Brittany Raymond, Spencer Macpherson, Brittany Teo, Luke Goss
Release date: TBC
Studio/Production Company: September17Studio
Run Time: 90 minutes