Two Whedonverse alums starring in a meta-slasher comedy? What could go wrong?
We are not exactly lacking for slasher deconstructions these days. The new Halloween shows us what a final girl would look like decades after her fateful encounter with a killer, and the mavericks at Blumhouse were hardly the first people to come up with that idea. H20 already did it 20 years ago, and in recent years smaller movies like Last Girl Standing and various comic books have taken a similar angle. Final Girls sucks a group of teens through a movie screen into a Friday the 13th pastiche and plays it for a surprising mother-daughter drama. Tragedy Girls pits a stereotypical male slasher villain against sociopathic, social media-obsessed best friends who just might be worse than him. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon explains and subverts all of the slasher rules, as explained by the actual killer. Tucker & Dale shows sympathy for the misunderstood hillbilly killer. Cabin in the Woods deconstructs not just slashers but the entire horror genre.
The casts of Supernatural and Legends of Tomorrow have each tangled with their own slow-and-steady slasher killer in recent months. Even commercials have gotten in on the act:
So, You Might Be the Killer, a new horror-comedy starring Fran Kranz and Alyson Hannigan, actually has a lot of competition. It’s no longer novel to simply point out the rules of a slasher and laugh at their predictability. Heck, Scream was doing that back when video stores were still a thing. What new angle has You Might Be the Killer found on this growing horror subgenre?
Well, it’s right there in the title: what if a final girl or boy candidate reaches the end of a typical slasher scenario and starts to suspect they might actually be the killer?
Interesting. Go on.
We start on a bloodied, panicked Fran Kanz (playing a lead camp counselor named Sam) desperately escaping into a cabin and immediately calling his best friend Chuck (Hannigan), who is in the middle of a shift at a geek memorabilia/comic book store. There’s a killer on the loose and most of the counselors are dead, he tells her. The nearest town is 25 miles away, and that town’s Sheriff is 75-years-old and doesn’t work nights anymore. So, sure, Sam left the Sheriff a voicemail, but until the morning comes he’s on his own. What the heck is he going to do?
Chuck, oddly, is more excited than alarmed by all of this. It’s like her very own version of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel How to Survive a Horror Movie! And she gets to do it from the safety of a comic book store, talking to Sam while continuing with her mundane tasks at the store. If she can help calm him down and retrace his steps she might get to solve the mystery of who the killer is. There’s little suspense in that area, though, since at the 16-minute mark Chuck invokes the title of the movie and asks Sam if it’s possible he’s actually the killer. He’s covered in blood but has no open wounds. Plus, he can’t remember everything clearly, suggesting he’s been suffering blackouts, and the bat he thinks he’s holding is actually a very gnarly machete with an alligator skull-adorned handle.
Yep. Dude’s totally the killer. The more accurate title, then, is not You Might Be the Killer but instead You ARE the Killer, But Why? Since Sam can’t clearly remember any of the murders, at least not at first, they have to figure out what triggered the killing spree and how many counselors are left out of the 13 they started with, counting Sam). It all seems to come down to a mysterious wooden mask he has in his backpack. This leads them down a jumbled flashback structure where he remembers the earlier events of the night, but not always in linear fashion. The filmmakers hold our hand through this by regularly throwing up a Kill Count, which fluctuates back and forth depending on where we are in the night.
Just when you start the question the morality of it all – Chuck, after all, is now a fully willing accessory to murder – a customer who has overheard the entire conversation will hang a lantern on it, telling Chuck, “Your friend should just kill himself.”
I love this scenario, but the film is never quite as funny nor as scary as I wanted it to be. Compared to some of the other recent slasher deconstructions, this is a slightly lesser effort, but it’s still a recommendable bit of lighthearted fun for horror-comedy nerds. Kanz and Hannigan, despite both looking slightly too old for their roles, are enjoyable. It’s a shame they never actually share the screen together. The practical effects team produces some pretty effective gore, leading to my favorite exchange in the movie. After we witness a flashback of a masked Sam driving a machete straight down the middle of a poor counselor’s head, Chuck brings us back to the present with a resigned, “Aw, you split his head in half?” “Yeah,” sighs a disgusted Sam, still unsure why he did it.
Again, Chuck probably should be more alarmed, but I’ll take it in what is clearly intended to be a loving genre tribute. More recent slasher deconstructions have maybe done a slightly better job of it, but You Might Be the Killer is the only one to feature a Liar, Liar-esque bit of inspired physical comedy involving Fran Kranz essentially kicking his own ass. Plus, The Mask meets Friday the 13th is a pretty good hook for a horror comedy.
RANDOM PARTING TRIVIA
Backstory time: After premiering at Fantastic Fest, You Might Be the Killer aired on the SyFy Network this past October. It’s now on Shudder. According to The New York Post, the whole thing owes its life to an hour-long Twitter exchange between sci-fi/fantasy authors Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig in which the former pretended to be a counselor at a camp suddenly hunted by a masked killer and the latter offered step-by-step advice for both surviving and figuring out who the killer is. The thread was liked 12,000 times and earned each author 5,000 new followers.
“For the most part I think [the thread’s purpose] is us trying to amuse each other, more than anyone else,” says Wendig, 42.“It’s like an improv game, in terms of narrative and story.” That spirit definitely carries over into You Might Be the Killer, but instead of simply amusing each other now they’re preaching to horror comedy fans who like seeing slasher norms upended.