Everyone has their favorite meta-horror film, from big-hitters like Scream (1997) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012) to scrappier fare like Behind the Mask (2006) and Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010), and the appeal for genre fans is understandable. When done well, movies like these show an appreciation for horror movies made evident both in their genre knowledge and in the creative ways in which they twist the familiar. You Might Be the Killer is the latest film to take a stab at meta greatness, but while it starts with an irresistible premise it does far too little with the setup.
Sam (Fran Kranz) runs into a cabin, barricades the door, and waits as the blood on his face begins to dry. Someone threatening is outside wanting in, and in a panic Sam does the only thing he can think to do — he calls his best friend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan) for help. She’s busy working her retail gig but makes time for him when he tells her the camp is under attack by a crazed killer who’s already slaughtered several counselors. She asks the important questions — Has he called the cops? Yes, he left a voicemail. Does he know how many are dead? Yes, seven or so fellow counselors. Does he know who the killer is?
This is where things get a bit sticky… because it might be Sam?
You Might Be the Killer is based on a now infamous Twitter exchange between authors Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig (not linking for spoiler reasons, but it’s easily Googled), and the fun of the thread translates well to the first act of director/co-writer Brett Simmons and co-writer Thomas P. Vitale‘s slasher/comedy. It’s a fun take on the familiar as a character mid slashing takes time to reach out and phone a friend, and the banter between them is playful and rife with genre knowledge. We jump back and forth between now and flashbacks to earlier, and we watch the carnage unfold complete with a constantly updating onscreen body count that ups the levity even more. The limitations of the source material quickly rear their head, though, as the film is so front-loaded that there’s little to to celebrate in its back half.
The big question hanging over the title is answered very early, and yes, Sam is the killer. He’s holding a weapon, he’s carrying a creepy mask, and the blood painted across his face and torso most certainly isn’t his own. With that confirmed far too early the film shifts towards his efforts to escape the madness and Chuck’s attempts to help him stay alive. They knock ideas back and forth to determine the mask’s grip on him, his odds of survival, and the simple rule about slasher killers — the final survivor is going to kill him. She suggests he should leave two alive making it impossible for there to be a final girl, but the voices in his head imply that may be a bit difficult.
The remainder of the film simply plays out as expected while it slowly runs out of steam in its effort to remind viewers that it “knows” the horror genre. 2015’s The Final Girls dropped characters into a slasher in an admittedly different way, but it handles the genre tropes far better — both the recognition of them and their subversion. More importantly, it finds a story with depth, character, and heart to hang them all onto. Here the terrifically fun, albeit one note, premise is the entirety of the film. There’s no real story or humanity to it, and it’s ultimately Kranz and Hannigan who power viewers through to the end as their comic charisma and deliveries earn some smiles along the way. Newcomers Brittany S. Hall and Bryan Price (as Steve the Kayak King) are also bright spots.
You Might Be the Killer works as a slight diversion, but the entirety of its surprises and energy are found in its first half. It’s still very much worth a watch for fans of lighter genre fare, though, as some bloody kills and humorous asides make for a casually fun time at summer camp.