Director: Jem Garrard
Writer: Suzanne Keilly
Producer: Daniel Iron, Armand Leo
Stars: Kacey Rohl, Humberly Gonzalez, Asha Bromfield, Lauren Collins, Varun Saranga, Kate Ross, Jonathan Langdon
Old friends and former rivals fight for their lives when a monster in a cursed mascot costume creates chaos at their high school reunion.
“Killer High” comes to us from Syfy, the network notorious for prematurely cancelling such well-regarded shows as “Channel Zero” and “The Expanse.” Their trigger finger isn’t so itchy to hit an eject button when it comes to cheaper productions on the original features front. Syfy knows what side their bread is buttered on. And that side is mediocre made-for-cable movies, of which “Killer High” is one.
I’m going to guess “Killer High” shot sequentially because over a third of its 85-minute duration flitters away unremarkably before the film finally says, “oh sh*t, maybe we should actually do something fun with this ridiculous premise where a cursed mascot costume kills a group of goofs at their high school reunion.” “Killer High” becomes much livelier down the line, when it finally grows the gonads to break out of its bland shell. But that turn is a long time coming. Until then, we have to yawn through a charmless setup while the film fights 12 full rounds to find its personality.
The Wallingham High School yearbook is stuffed with stereotypes for the class of 2008. Sabrina is an overanxious neurotic still fantasizing about her prom queen glory days because she never mentally moved on. It’s her idea to host a reunion, mainly to remind her rival Rosario that Sabrina was queen of the coop before Rosario found success in New York. Every detail must be perfect of course. So Sabrina enlists the aid of her BFF Margo and puppy dog pal Ronnie, whose unrequited crush on Margo has gone unnoticed as long as Ronnie himself did when he was their school’s invisible nerd.
Being cut from factory-stamped shapes doesn’t make these cookies crumble. Uncharacteristically for a roster filled with familiarity, the problem is that these archetypes don’t go all the way over the top into full caricatures. Leashing inherent cartoonishness keeps characters from having the comic chops they need to inject entertaining hilarity into cheesy horror.
Doing them no favors is early dialogue that has little room for comedy, what with all of the exposition it’s constantly choking on. “No one else is going to have anything with the Wallingham mascot on it; if we get this, we are so winning,” says a girl in the prologue explaining the scavenger hunt leading to the cursed costume’s discovery. Ronnie swoons, “it’s so nice of you to come early and help Sabrina plan all this” while Margo responds, “she was my best friend in school … (she had to) skip college to care for her sick mother.” If someone isn’t identifying who somebody is, then he or she de facto narrates onscreen action.
More so once the movie hits its stride, Suzanne Keilly’s script harbors a sense of humor. Wading in shallow waters to begin with, jokes don’t win out loud laughs, and rarely rise above running gags like no one remembering Ronnie or the visual spectacle of a hapless victim unable to escape through a doorframe because overturned trophies pinned his hands to a long desk. Yet there are quips in conversations and slashes of snark in other scenes with potential to follow though on a punch.
Except casual writing requires the cast to squeeze out the humor through their delivery, which is where Jem Garrard pulls up short as their director. Garrard sticks so rigidly to what’s on the page that only stiffness comes out in the wash. Actors appear on the edge of cracking the comedy egg, and certainly seem capable of doing so, yet stay strangely in check to where expressions and antics merely hint at what they could do if they were permitted to unshackle inhibitions.
Milquetoast music can take some of that blame too. A bouncier beat could cue some bits to have sharper bite. But like the production design, cinematography, and art direction, everything about “Killer High” reads like a routine work-for-hire effort formed on function first, expressive creativity last.
As alluded to, the movie does heat up its humor as well as its horror down the back half. One cheekily irreverent moment sees a born again Christian turning to God to protect her from the killer warthog. Her standoff ends as you’d expect, with a delightful decapitation featuring enough gushing blood to fill three bodies. This is the kind of few and far between flash of spirited dementedness “Killer High” begs for more of.
“Killer High” aches for the Troma treatment, or at least the confident guidance of a comedy-horror veteran who could steer the ship on a line between outrageousness and imagination from the outset. Rather than doubling down on copious close-ups of an unarticulated warthog face that looks like a rubbery Halloween mask, the movie should be finding creative ways to turn budgetary drawbacks into comedic boons. Playing much of the material straight and relying on repeated Matrix freeze frames to supplement style doesn’t get the job done.
“Average is as average does” is a summation I’ve almost used in previous Syfy movie reviews. I never did because it sounds sillier than Forrest Gump’s famous phrase. Maybe it should say, “Syfy is as Syfy does” instead. It’s not any more inventive, although it succinctly describes almost the entire oeuvre of Syfy’s original features. It certainly describes “Killer High,” a middling movie in need of an adrenaline shot to both arms. If you’ve seen even a fraction of the Syfy creature features in question, you know exactly what I mean.
Review Score: 50