'Extracurricular' Review: Reading, Writing, and Homicidal Impulses (Toronto After Dark)

Think 'Tragedy Girls' but with far fewer laughs and hashtags.

Extracurricular

A young couple heads to a remote cabin in the woods for a relaxing getaway, and as they settle in for the evening reflecting on the life growing inside her they drift peacefully to sleep unaware of what’s heading their way. (We know, of course, because they’re at a remote cabin in the woods…) They awake to the sound of their car alarm, and just a few minutes later they’re dead at the hands of four masked figures. The next day the foursome are wearing different masks all together — as normal high school teenagers.

The friends have formed their own little club that sees them picking a stranger, casing their home and surroundings, and committing the murders preceded by as much terror as they can cause. The group — brothers Derek (Keenan Tracey) and Ian (Spencer Macpherson), Derek’s girlfriend Jenny (Brittany Teo), and their friend Miriam (Brittany Raymond) — begin planning their next murder, but strife within their ranks and the increased attention of the local sheriff threaten to end their fun and games. Did I mention Sheriff Gordon (Luke Goss) is Derek and Ian’s father?

Extracurricular is the latest in a relatively recent surge in slasher films that imbue their characters with smarts and an awareness of genre tropes — think the likes of You’re Next (2011), Final Girls (2015), or Tragedy Girls (2017) — but unlike those listed this Canadian thriller leaves its sense of humor on the sidelines. The script by Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango plays everything straight, and while that results in a decidedly less “fun” movie it’s still an entertainingly nasty little blast of genre thrills. Director Ray Xue matches the youthful enthusiasm of his teen killers with style and energy of his own most evident in creative camera movements and the layering of texts and laptop screens into the scene without resorting to closeups and inserts.

We see the four at school interacting with normal folks and shifting into murderer’s chatter whenever their alone. They reflect on past kills discussing what worked, what didn’t, and what could be made scarier for the victims next time, and time is invested in their planning stages too. They scope out targets, get the lay of the land, look for patterns in behavior, and then execute their plan intending to terrify their victims before finally killing them. It’s every bit the playbook of the killers from The Strangers (2008) but revealed from their perspective instead of the scared couple. That means no scares for viewers too, though, leaving the film wholly reliant on the smarts of its script and charisma of its cast.

The four teens — well, four twentysomethings anyway — acquit themselves well in balancing varying degrees of youthful arrogance and cockiness that leaves them feeling, if not likable, at least far from detestable. They’re punks prone to reading Nietzsche and shrugging off the realization that they killed a pregnant woman, but cracks are growing more and more visible in their teenage veneer. Miriam in particular is showing signs of a moral compass and is instead looking looking towards college and a new romantic interest, and her second thoughts threaten the unity of the group. They’re far from cardboard cutout characters too, and there’s enough personality in each to paint a picture of the lives that led them towards being murderous twats they’ve become.

The script gives just enough lip service to the idea that the teens know horror movies and are basing their games off the thrills within, although when one says potato sack masks are too cliched as they’re in “every slasher movie ever” I have to wonder if they’ve seen more than Friday the 13th Part 2 and The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The script’s smarter than that in general, though, and it earns points for not quite going where you most likely expect with its ending.

Extracurricular is a fittingly mean-spirited little movie that refuses to soften the edges of its youthful killers and instead doubles down on their particular brand of nihilism. They’re never portrayed as victims, but their predicament grows increasingly engaging as their latest kill goes sideways in brutal and bloody ways.

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