Toto Mustn’t Be Destroyed! Presents:
Review by Philip Perron
Slasher films are a staple of the horror genre. This includes what people call the tent pole films like HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), however it also includes those films that predated them such as BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) and various Italian giallos that talents like Mario Bava and Sergio Martino directed. But their heyday was during the 1980s, when everyone including Hollywood elites of the time, like Harvey Weinstein, to groups of college coeds with camera in hand, produced them. And in some cases, they were well received or, in time, became cult classics. But many were and still are nothing more than rubbish, plain and simple.
Now with the digital format, anyone with the proper equipment can make a movie. And some folks—such as Quentin Tarantino, who prefers to only use film—have bemoaned this phenomenon. One can just go to the horror section of Netflix and see dozens upon dozens of such films that no one has ever heard of, and in many cases would be smart to avoid. But this is not always the case.
I’m a huge supporter of the digital format, since it immediately removes the most expensive cost for filmmakers—the film stock. Now with digital, audiences have been able to get some splendid movies that in many cases would not have been able to be funded. Just within the last few years, such hidden horror gems as COME BACK TO ME (2014), GODDESS OF LOVE (2015), and SUNCHOKE (2015) gave me goosebumps, and have generally been well-received by critics as well. So, for every dozen or so low budget eyesores, a diamond in the rough appears.
The new film WTF! (2017) from Midnight Releasing is a surprisingly effective and fun rollercoaster of a slasher film. Having received a screener of the movie, I was a bit hesitant to spend the 81 minute runtime watching it. Peter Herro, the director—I asked myself, who’s he?—And the stars? Andrea Hunt? Callie Ott? And the rest? But when a fellow reviewer I respect said the film was absolutely solid, I decided to give it a go. And honestly, I have to say, I am so very happy that I did.
In short, the story is simple: a group of seven college seniors head out to the remote California manor of one of their uncles to spend spring break. Certainly cheaper than flying to Cabo, they still have the same opportunities to copulate, partake in recreational drug use, and play video games. In other words, do what college students do to burn off steam. But, unbeknownst to them, there is a danger that awaits. And the recent disappearance of the owner of the villa doesn’t bode well either.
The film follows the standard slasher beats, as if marking off checkboxes on a survey. Remote location? Check. No phones? Check. Harbinger? Check. Hot girls nude? Check. The essential sex scene? Check. Solid practical effects. Check? Effective kills? Check. Body count? Check. Split up into groups? Check. Final girl? Check. (Too many checks? Check ~editor.) But what it doesn’t lack with formula, it sure makes up with originality and acting.
Our unknowns playing the seven leads are absolutely solid in their acting. Each of them understood this low-budget film was more than just income to pay the rent. They saw it as an opportunity to fill their resume with something they can be proud of. Working with a solid script by Adam Buchalter and direction by first time director Peter Herro, the dialogue is key to the film’s early success.
Realism is the main concern with low-budget films in general, and with horror films it usually devolves into comedy. Here we have a film that keeps it real as best as a slasher film can. Whether it is the emoting by the performers of fear or desire, or discussing how to perform a kill move in the video game they play for leisure, the actors on screen stay in character throughout, and the movie never transitions to farce.
One actress, Sarah Agor, who plays Lisa, the mean yet pragmatic girl, actually participated in the short-lived VH1 reality television series Scream Queens, where actresses competed for a role in the SAW film series. Though she didn’t win, she obviously is a fan of horror movies and was well-suited for this film.
The lead girl, Rachel, played by Callie Ott (a Kate Mara look-a-like), is written in a curious way that gives her an atypical unlikability that makes her feel unsympathetic at times. At first, as a viewer, I wasn’t quite sure if this was intentional or a misstep in the screenplay, but, as the film evolves, we find out that it is a deliberate choice.
The role of the sexy mean girl that’s so generic to these types of films is a character named Bonnie, played by the drop-dead gorgeous Andrea Hunt. With some novelty and a bit of innovation, even if she is stunning to look at and would seem to be the girl that would thumb her nose at everyone, the character is played with sensitivity, kindness, and loyalty that breaks the mold of the horror caricature and allows us to relate to her more so than anyone else, even if she may travel in different circles than some of us.
The films runtime states 81 minutes, and the first 40 minutes of that we follow our characters from an early hot tub party where they discuss what to do for spring break to their travels to their ultimate destination, the villa. When they arrive, the regular shenanigans occur. Skinny dipping in the pool, excessive bong use, and their concoction of the best kill move in the latest Xbox fight game.
Character development in these movies usually isn’t important, but as a viewer I always appreciate it. And here, with its small cast, we do get to know our main protagonists quite a bit. Whether they may at times seem immature or even silly, they are possibly the most realistic characters I’ve seen in a slasher film since Wes Craven’s 1996 SCREAM. And none of them, even if they may be irritating at times, are people I disliked. I can be forgiving of folks a bit more than most, but here I feel as if my opinion of them is fair. And as a result, I could immerse myself in their world with ease.
When the unseen killer does begin their bloodshed, the film really moves into high gear. Rather than this new trend in horror films of turning our leads into heroes, our protagonists are full of disarray, and therefore appear more real in my opinion. Fear, desperation, survival, and pragmatism all work side by side for each without one taking precedent. And, when they find their vehicles disabled, a debate on whether to hike out of their jam is quickly thwarted when one of them is hampered by a very harsh foot injury.
The script adds a mighty surprise that the more astute viewer may have figured out if they were looking for it. As a result, the film is perfect for a second viewing since the various clues and oddities in the actions of characters are now thoroughly understood. When the movie begins to present this twist, I was still fully unaware of it until the very last beat.
Near the end, as the handful of survivors are reprimanding each other for the lack of haste in decision-making, everything was suddenly dropped in my lap. I was honestly blown away by the remarkably well done, if not necessarily original, twist. No matter what one would feel about what came prior in the film, this alone made WTF! the top slasher movie of 2017 for me.
The film is most certainly highly recommended by me and is available on VOD services and DVD.
© Copyright 2018 by Philip Perron