Decent slasher movies are hard to come by, particularly in the torture and paranormal activity obsessed noughties. Most Likely To Die, the latest feature from popular horror director Anthony DiBlasi (Missionary, Last Shift), is a callback to the nineties heyday of slashers, when the likes of Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, et al were scaring teens in to (or out of) theatres worldwide.
Following a perfectly-judged and nicely nasty cold opening, the scene is set for a group of unsuspecting high school friends to gather in a remote location just outside Los Angeles to celebrate the night before their 10-year reunion, unaware that a killer is waiting in the wings. Decorating the walls are their blown-up school portraits, each of them gifted a superlative from their classmates (for non-US residents, this means stuff like Most Likely To Succeed, etc).
Naturally, one guy is mysteriously missing and when one of the photos is, supposedly, vandalised, with a big red X and the words Most Likely To Die–recalling a legendary but mean prank that was pulled over their senior year–the situation gradually starts to unravel as they realise they are being targeted by a masked killer wearing a graduation gown. Scores are settled, old rivalries and flames are reignited, and before too long the bodies start to hit the floor. Literally.
Most Likely To Die‘s central preoccupation is with revenge, but it’s really about how much we actually know the people around us. As with all slashers, after a while the characters begin to wonder whether one of them is the killer and the fun comes in trying to guess who is actually brandishing the grad cap (sharpened here, and ingeniously used as a weapon). And, as with all the best slashers, the characters are all well-written, believable people with real reactions, whom we don’t wish to see perish.
“Like this cabin in the woods s**t really happens” one of them snipes, acknowledging the ridiculousness of the situation. Likewise, upon locating a gun, another girl goes after the killer with it, to try to stop him herself. There is lots of running and screaming (obviously, this is a slasher movie) and the kills are pretty gruesome but the flick isn’t interested in picking horrible people off one by one. We’re supposed to root for these people, to wish for their survival.
Glee‘s Heather Morris is the leader, so to speak, taking charge when things start to go wrong in spite of her troubled romantic past with one of her classmates. Jake “son of Gary” Busey has an amusing supporting role as a pervy gardener who gets knocked off early on. Horrid blogger and celeb wannabe Perez Hilton seems like stunt casting until you realise he has some decent dramatic chops, not to mention the most hilariously girlish scream imaginable.
The witty, insightful script, penned by Laura Brennan in the nineties when these kinds of movies were super popular, makes subtle nods to what’s come before (“I’ll be right back”). Her villain, although he might look kind of silly at first, is an entirely new, often very frightening, creation, while her focus on characters (something DiBlasi is known for, also) anchors the story. We care about this group of friends because, after spending some time in their company, it feels like we know them.
This is DiBlasi’s first movie shot outside of Florida, but the Topanga Canyon location is used to great effect, particularly when the characters venture off on hikes together or try in vain to escape (also a recurring feature of the less effective Some Kind Of Hate). The film encompasses long, lingering takes, capturing the expansiveness of the landscape and the isolation of the house in which the characters find themselves trapped.
It’s a set-up with which we’re very familiar, but DiBlasi and Brennan do some pretty cool stuff with it. Although it’s a nineties slasher through and through, Most Likely To Die has more in common with the likes of April Fool’s Day than I Know What You Did Last Summer. The Graduate is a cold-blooded killer, sure, but he strikes during the day, he taunts his prey because he knows their secrets–he’s not someone who’s shying away from them, he’s hiding in plain sight.
There are a couple of interesting twists towards the end which, naturally, leaves a few things up to the audience. But there isn’t a sense that the movie was created to kick-start a new franchise, as is so often the case (again, see: Some Kind Of Hate). Much like Scream, it seems Most Likely To Die was envisioned as a standalone film, one that could feasibly stand toe to toe with a lot of the heavy-hitters in this sub-genre, along with the other pretenders to the throne.
As slashers go, this is one of the strongest offerings in years. An absolute delight from start to finish, it’s smart, fun, scary and very funny with a terrific cast and a villain that seems lame at first but soon shows exactly what he’s made of. DiBlasi handles the set-up expertly, utilising Brennan’s whip-smart script to create an atmosphere of unease where everyone is a suspect and anyone could be next.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Anthony Di Blasi
Writer(s): Laura Brennan
Stars: Chad Addison, Heather Miller, Perez Hilton, Jake Busey
Studio/ Production Co: Snowfall Films
Length: 90 minutes