School Spirit (2019)

OCTOBER 2, 2020


When I clicked on Into The Dark's School Spirit, it registered as being halfway watched already, which was a surprise since I had no memory whatsoever of even really knowing what it was, let alone watching a sizable chunk of it. I can only assume it autoplayed after something else (something that I CHOSE to fall asleep watching), but my memory is getting so bad lately it's not implausible that I watched it the day before. However, it turned out to be kind of fitting for the film, because even though I know (or "know") I haven't seen it before, it had a familiarity to it that was detrimental in some aspects, but also worked in its favor.

And by that I mean... it's a whodunit slasher! You all know by now how much I love such things, and will look past their flaws much easier than I will any other kind of film as long as I can tell that everyone has their heart in the right place. Which was certainly the case here; it was just a straight up teen slasher that checked off most of the required boxes, didn't wear out its welcome or burden us with a complicated backstory, and - most importantly - presented a group of normal, not hateable teens. As a bonus: they had a reason to not like each other all that much, as they didn't really know each other either - our hero group is serving Saturday detention.

I mean, it's pretty easy to see that this was essentially "What if Breakfast Club but as a slasher?", though they thankfully don't copy the same Brat Packer characters over. Instead they fill in other stereotypes: a straight A type, a jokester, an eye-rolling slacker girl, etc. Some know each other, others don't, and over the course of the day they really learn to communicate and become a stron- hahah no, I'm kidding. Most of them die. The body count isn't particularly high given the limited number of participants: there are five kids in detention, one bonus one who is outside playing basketball and just kind of wanders in, and the vice principal who is overseeing their punishment.

There's also an opening scene with two others being killed off that feels kind of tacked on, and perhaps it was, but it helps sell the backstory of a ghostly murderer who stalks the halls of the school and offs the bad students. Only the very foolish - or people who had simply never seen a slasher before - would really buy that it's a ghost doing these things, and furthermore only the slasher illiterate would have difficulty pegging the identity of the murderer early on (it's barely even hidden, as if the decision to make it a whodunit came late), but it's an interesting enough concept. You think about the vengeful slasher icons like Jason, supposedly seeking revenge for his mother's death and his own (well, for lack of a better word on the latter), but the people he is going after often don't even know who he is let alone have anything to do with what happened to him. Or there are the types who are offing everyone involved with a specific incident, which limits their scope. So it's kind of fun/novel to have one who simply goes after the kids in the school who are giving it a bad rep, allowing him to cast a wide net but stick to his established motive as well.

Plus it's got some pretty great kills, including a paper slicer one that plays out perfectly, in that it's not a clean, single slice. Nope, the killer has to take three whacks at it before the inevitable decapitation, which is the sort of little detail I love (it also tips off once and for all that we're not dealing with a superhuman beast like Voorhees). It sadly keeps the most deserved death off-screen in order to preserve its non-mystery, but it makes up for it with a surprise kill after that reminded me of the Friday the 13th remake, in which it seemed like there would be two Final Girls until, you know, there wasn't. Speaking of the Final Girl, her final lines to the killer are both hilarious when you consider how it probably stung for him to hear, but also do a fine job of circumventing some cliches about her role in such fare.

Another thing I liked was that it was set during the day, but in a mostly shut-down school (because it's Saturday), so you get these shots of a dark hallway with bright sunlight streaming through one little chunk of it. I've always found this unusual lighting look to be pretty creepy; every now and then I have to go into my office on a weekend and it produces the same effect - you feel like you're wandering around in the dark, even with the daylight streaming in. It's a shame that the group spends like half the runtime in the library though; there's only one quick chase near the end, so the director failed to really milk the emptiness of the school for all it was worth. I don't like Prom Night much, but it offers the gold standard for how to do a slasher chase in a high school - doing something on that scale with those shafts of bright light would have been really cool, I think. Alas!

But I mean, it's not reinventing the wheel or anything - if one were to rank every slasher movie ever made based on objective criteria, it'd probably land somewhere in (or perhaps the exact?) middle, so ultimately, your mileage will vary depending on how much of a sucker you are for body count fare. If you're the type of person who has seen a franchise entry you dislike a dozen times (I've seen Halloween: Resurrection at least that many times) but haven't gotten around to a second viewing of your favorite movie from five years ago (someday the shrinkwrap will come off that Martian blu-ray), then you'll probably find this pretty satisfying. But if you demand more weight to movies where a masked killer offs five or six people only to be taken down by the girl we like the most, I wouldn't exactly sign up for Hulu just to watch this one. "It's pretty good!" says a guy who owns - and has read! - the novelization for Final Exam. Take from that what you will.

What say you?


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