Extracurricular reveals after-school activities aren’t what they used to be. In Ray Xue’s second feature, four seemingly ordinary teenagers get creative with how they spend their free time. In addition to studying and dating, they meticulously organize home invasions.
Donning masks and brandishing weapons, these aren’t your average juvenile delinquents—they’re cold-blooded killers. When their latest slaughter doesn’t go according to plan, though, they have no choice but to improvise. For as cunning as they believe themselves to be, these teens learn there’s no such thing as a perfect crime.
Making A Murderer
Ian (Spencer Macpherson) and his brother Derek (Keenan Tracey) are the sons of the oblivious sheriff (Luke Goss). Their respective girlfriends are Miriam (Brittany Raymond) and Brittany (Jenny Kyoko). In most respects, they’re fairly normal by all accounts. This ruse works to their advantage as no one has a clue as to what they’ve been doing—even when they repeatedly discuss their plans in public.
During the day, the teens have average, adolescent concerns. From Ian being in the dark about Miriam‘s secret, to Brittany avoiding an unhappy home life, the main characters are deceptively harmless. When night falls, they replace one mask with another. The juxtaposition of their two lives is alarming, but the little difference between their personas is even more so.
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Art Imitates Life
Chiding criticism of horror comes and goes like the tides. The public’s need to single the genre out as the cause of real-life tragedy is just something the fans have come to accept. While some might see Extracurricular as an admission of guilt, the protagonists’ desire to kill isn’t the direct result of worshiping slasher movies. There is certainly a conversation to be had but Xue’s film isn’t the one to make it.
If we suggest movies cause violence, Extracurricular is no paragon. The acts that transpire here are potentially a reflection of today’s world. There is mention of horror movies. Yet, that’s not the killers’ main inspiration. The four young characters have deeper issues that should have been addressed long ago by adults. In failing to do so, the problems festered and ultimately spiraled out of control. It’s a fine-drawn, possibly reaching conclusion to make about a movie that shows more than tells.
For a movie about teen serial killers, Extracurricular starts off relatively sterile. Near the end is where we finally pay attention. A plot development incidentally invites some bloodier carnage that will catch some viewers off guard. Point-blank gunshots, splattered viscera, and fatal knife wounds are some things to look forward to. Taking the butchery close to home — physically and emotionally — also creates an intimacy that was absent early on.
From the beginning, Ian and his friends wanted to cause chaos with no true destination in sight. Their misanthropic misdeeds are especially heinous during the last two acts. This is when the tone gets darker, if that even seems possible at this point. Their painstakingly studied design hits a major snag that exposes the biggest problem within the group—self-preservation overrules loyalty.
As opposed to Scream and Heathers, Extracurricular lacks humor that could soften its sheer hostility. Largely serious with few light moments to cut the tension, the tone feels urgent. As Wes Craven’s meta-horror films centered on killers seeking notoriety or vengeance, the motive here is purely one of pleasure. The victims aren’t being robbed nor is there any given justification for the murders. This is wanton sadism at its purest.
Weighed down by unfocused storytelling and a draggy beginning, Xue’s movie is inconsistent. The characters are equally underdeveloped with no one singled out as the main subject of interest. And, for this reason alone, the ending doesn’t work. No matter how much more engaging the story becomes, its ultimate solution to an impossible situation is unearned.
“A” For Effort
At the very least, Extracurricular is daring. It’s unfriendly, mean-spirited, and unlike other teen horrors coming out nowadays. It’s a risky venture that forgoes a key element that makes any film memorable—emotion. By following these four loathsome maniacs, Extracurricular disconnects itself from its own audience. Viewers can only watch, mouths agape, as Ian and his friends maim without cause.
So often we’re introduced to villains whose cruelty is celebrated. In this case where those same qualities are attributed to teenagers, there is somehow less entertainment. Merely, it’s a test of endurance that some will likely fail.
Extracurricular is available on VOD starting January 17. Share your thoughts on Extracurricular with the Nightmare on Film Street community on Twitter, in our Official Subreddit, or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group!