I’m pretty much an easy mark for slasher movies, especially ones that take place at a summer camp. There’s something so wholesome and retro about counselors getting picked off by a masked killer that it always warms my heart. And because I love the slasher genre so dearly, any film that dares to offer a deconstruction on the subgenre piques my curiosity. And I’m here to tell you that in spite of the humor mostly falling a little flat for me, the slasher stuff in You Might Be the Killer works like gangbusters with some crunchy, wet practical kills that keep the blood flowing throughout.
Based in part on a hilarious Twitter thread (what a time to be alive) between genre writers Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig, You Might Be the Killer follows Sam, played by Fran Kranz, who is the owner of the summer camp where a masked killer is picking off the good-looking counselors who had the misfortune to show up for an “off-the-grid” summer. When evidence starts adding up, he calls his comic book clerk pal, Chuck (Alyson Hannigan), and begins figuring out whether or not he’s found the killer of the movie. What follows is a fun, engaging supernatural slasher throwback that knows what kind of film it is and knows exactly why you’re here. From jump street, director Brett Simmons and co-writer Thomas P. Vitale keep you hooked all the way through the movie, right up to its sequel-baiting ending.
The film begins at the traditional third act of a slasher film and stays there for the whole movie. This is typically the part where the victims are now aware there’s a killer on the loose and are struggling to survive until dawn. Then, we jump backwards through the timeline, giving us differing perspectives on the matter and pivoting towards something akin to a slasher film take on Rashomon—essentially Slashomon—with the audience tracking where they are in the chronology by a helpful body count tracker on the screen, adding victims to the roster and taking them away when it turns out they aren’t as dead as we thought.
Though it leans into the meta aspect of slasher storytelling, namely the legend of the killer, the final girl, and the supernatural strength of the killer, it’s often light on film references, doling shout-outs to Maniac Cop, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and one slasher set piece towards the end that I swear has to be a reference to the locked gate door scene in Halloween H20, right down to the killer picking up the keys and working to unlock it. The only wince-inducing referential element I don’t like is naming your characters after slasher/horror characters. When you name a character after an iconic person in the genre, you’re only asking for comparisons to get dropped, and frankly, you’re creating a type rather than a character. “Our slasher final girl? Let’s call her Jamie!” It’s the same with someone naming a zombie film character Romero or Fulci. Just don’t do it.
Fran Kranz is reliably excellent as Sam, taking us through a whirligig of emotions—horror, humor, love, and the mortal fear that he may end up dead by film’s end—and it’s safe to say that he one hundred percent sells the concept of the film. It just wouldn’t work without him. Fellow Whedon alum Alyson Hannigan fairs admirably as well. Hannigan still radiates the adorableness and warmth that she had on Buffy the Vampire Slayer—the only downside being her detachment from all the action, as she’s centralized in the comic book shop and often serves as the reactionary character to Sam’s slasher shenanigans. The rest of the actors are completely aware that they’re playing the clichéd summer camp character archetype you see in a lot of slasher films (the jock, the sex symbol, the meek virgin), archetypes that The Cabin in the Woods skewed several years earlier, but the actors are entirely game for what the film asks of them, even if most of them are killed off quickly with only the briefest of character sketch to them.
The humor isn’t as on point as I’d hoped it would be, but humor’s also a subjective thing. Yes, some of the jokes land exactly as they’re meant to—the voices of the mask urging its wearer to kill and everything involving “The Kayak King”—but I also find that if a joke presents itself as a joke, it’s sometimes just not that funny. I know there are comparisons to The Cabin in the Woods or Scream, but I got a lot more of a Club Dread vibe, particularly in respect to the big, booming orchestral score and the way the film tweaks with the slasher legend. Also, I do like the design of the killer’s mask (faceless, blank, and carved out of a tree) and their weapon (a long-bladed knife with the jaw of a prehistoric creature running along it).
I love the film’s idea that the slasher legend isn’t a result of the killer’s action, but that the legend creates the killer. For instance, in The Burning, the reason Cropsey is killing teens is because he was set on fire and seeking revenge. In this film, characters hear about a legend, discover that it’s true, and deal with the bloody consequences of that discovery. The film doesn’t hold off too long on who the killer is that’s rampaging around the camp, and I won’t reveal that now, but it’s less concerned with “who” and more focused on the “why” and “what do I do about it?” This is what I love about the film—it explores the concept of what would happen if Jason Voorhees grew a conscience and started pondering the ramifications of his murder spree.
Movie Score: 4/5
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