“Teens in peril” continues to be one of the most popular horror subgenres, and adolescent mayhem is not limited to masked killers knocking off stereotypical characters one by one. Let’s face it, teenage life can be scary. With fears ranging from school exams, to dating, to the question of what to do after graduation, filmmakers use countless tropes to transfer those nightmares to the screen. From old-school classics to modern, meta takes, teen horror spans the spectrum, focusing not only on movies aimed at a younger audience, but also those dark dramas that feature teen characters. This go round, for “Leap Fear” month here at Nightmare on Film Street, I’m taking a look at the 2015 slasher Most Likely to Die.
The story revolves around a group of twenty-something-year-old friends (I know, they’re not teenagers, but read on) who gather at a remote home on the eve of their ten-year high school reunion. Right off the bat, the characters are thrust into the past by the way of a series of blown-up senior photos that are plastered across one of the house’s interior walls. In ways relevant to their high school yearbook superlatives, the characters get knocked off one at a time in increasingly gruesome ways by a masked killer referred to as The Graduate, who wears a graduation cap and gown. Structured like a typical teen slasher, Most Likely to Die uses the common mold to craft an entertaining tale that melds the past with the present.
Most Likely to Die stars Heather Morris (Spring Breakers), Perez Hilton (Wtf!), Jake Busey (The Frighteners), Jason Tobias (Terrordactyl), and Skyler Vallo (The A-list). The film was directed by Anthony Diblasi, whose previous directorial work includes Dread (2009), Cassadaga (2011), and Last Shift (2014), from a screenplay by Laura Brennan.
“Placing adult characters in what is typically thought of as a teen sub-genre is a clever way to show the proximity of adolescence and adulthood.”
One of the things that Most Likely to Die focuses most of its running time on is its wise use of stereotypical characters. Broad characterization is often a sign of poor, lazy writing, but in this case it is relevant and important to the structure of the film. Using these type of characters is a cliche that has run rampant through the teen horror genre over the years, and particularly within the niche market of slasher flicks. The cheerleader, the nerd, the goth, the jock, etc., viewers are hard-pressed to find a teen movie that doesn’t exploit at least a few of these generalizations. Even though the characters in Most Likely to Die are not within the thirteen-to-nineteen age bracket during the central timeline, the major thrust of the story, the reason why all of this is happening, revolves around the group when they were adolescents.
Yearbook superlatives are a quintessential example of how surface-level teen labels can be extended to encompass a certain mindset and/or assumption of a person’s character. Take almost any high school slasher and most of the characters could be given one of these monikers. From the class clown to the beauty queen, these kinds of labels present a bare-bones way to whittle down a character to what appears to be his or her essence, albeit from someone who is on the outside looking in. Most Likely to Die is interesting in the fact that it takes a look at how those adolescent labels carry over into early adulthood, both in the form of self identity and that of how others view them as a whole person. Here, though, the conclusions are not based on blind assumptions, as there is a prior knowledge among the group of each other’s inner character.
Along with the stereotypes, the passage of time plays an important role in the storytelling structure of Most Likely to Die. Early in the first act, it is evident that some of the characters have moved on from certain aspects of their high school days, but there are others among the group that are either A) clinging to a decade old identity, or B) holding a grudge because of something that happened long ago. During the film’s running time, it is interesting to see how long it takes each character to break the viewer’s interpretation of him or her, or to succumb to what has literally been written on the wall from the beginning of the story. As with a TON of teen horror movies, the murders hold a direct link to something that happened in the past. Here, the killer’s motive is the result of a prank that was pulled on a former classmate. The killer, The Graduate, is clearly stuck in the past and even uses pieces of the symbolic high school graduation cap and gown as a means to kill those in the present. All of it is mostly routine slasher stuff, but it works well on the film’s behalf.
The decision to stage the entirety of Most Likely to Die as a typical teen slasher is a smart move from the filmmakers. The formula works well as a way to intertwine the past with the present. Placing adult characters in what is typically thought of as a teen sub-genre is a clever way to show the proximity of adolescence and adulthood. In addition to the slasher formula, the yearbook photos/superlatives, and the cap-and-gown clad killer, the musical score, which is largely constructed of marching band music, also serves as a near-constant reminder that the past isn’t that far behind. For those horror fans looking to explore even more depth to the proceedings, the film works well as a parable viewed from various angles: the basic assumptions people have about others, the pressure to live up to expectations, the manipulation used to force someone to fit into preconceived, generalized notion of character, and, ultimately, the time it takes for someone to find his or her true identity.
“Most Likely to Die uses the common mold to craft an entertaining tale that melds the past with the present.”
Most Likely to Die is currently available to rent on Amazon Video, YouTube, and more. But have you already seen the movie? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!