Ten years ago, a gaggle of yearbook staffers drunkenly defaced John Dougherty’s senior photo and voted him Most Likely to Die. Flash-forward to the night before the big high school reunion, and it’s not just yearbook pictures that are getting hacked and slashed.
I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s start with Ashley. In case you lose track of which of the one character introduced so far in ‘Most Likely to Die’ is Ashley, she’s the one rocking the hot pink tanktop with “Ashley” printed on it. And, c’mon, that is such an Ashley thing to do!
Ashley has just rolled up to the palatial yet hopelessly remote getaway of hockey pro Ray Yoder, and she’s hardly stepped foot inside before it’s time for a PG-13 striptease. But wait! Where is Ray? Still wallowing after getting cut by the Rangers? A series of notes scattered throughout the house point to something way less depressing: a randy game of Hot and Cold. Meow! (I’m actually making a purring sound as I write this, but I don’t know how to type that out.)
Undeterred by messages like “As cold as your grave” and, um, only slightly more deterred by one reading “Die already,” Ashley finally bolts at the sight of a masked killer. She makes a run for it but gets yanked behind a metal door, Leatherface-style, with all sorts of squishy, violent sound effects unspooling in the background.
Ashley’s senior superlative was “Most Likely to See Her Name in Lights,” and sure enough:
So, yeah, we’re talking about a slasher flick with an irresistibly ridiculous title, newly reunited yearbook staffers whose murders are themed around senior superlatives, and a killer wearing a papier-mâché mask, razor-edged graduation cap, and gown. I haven’t even gotten to the part where Perez Hilton or leering hillbilly Jake Busey show up! With everything that this throwback slasher has going for it, you might even say that it’s most likely to succeed. I mean, I wouldn’t say that, but maybe you would.
Alas, ‘Most Likely to Die’ is ultimately as limp and lifeless as the parade of corpses this killer leaves behind. Writer Laura Brennan and director Anthony DiBlasi take a stab at having it both ways. On one hand, it’s Body Count Comfort Food, reveling in every trope and cliché from forty years of slashers.
Playing it so paint-by-numbers does enable ‘Most Likely to Die’ to catch viewers off-guard at times. The camera pans down as Gaby (Heather Morris from ‘Glee’) splashes water on her face, for instance, and I obviously expected to see the killer’s reflection in the mirror when her head bobs back up. I was lured in by that feint only to be sucker-punched when the real scare was waiting in the soap dispenser.
Far more often, though, the beats are excessively predictable. Seasoned slasher fanatics won’t have the least bit of trouble pinpointing when it’s a red herring behind that pantry door or when a bloodthirsty psychopath is about to leap out into the hallway. Don’t brace yourself for much of anything in the way of tension or suspense.
At the same time, there’s a pervasive sense that Brennan and DiBlasi are aiming for Elevated Slasher Cinema. Y’know, they don’t want these yearbook staffers to just be interchangeable fodder for a masked lunatic; they’re supposed to be people. I get it. If we as viewers become emotionally invested in who they are, how they relate to one another, and all the things that have gone so well and so horribly wrong for them in the decade since graduation, it’ll be that much more intense when they’re on the receiving end of a gleaming blade.
There’s a reason that I dropped the recap format after Ashley was knocked off, though. Despite the fact that the yearbook staff went on to be everything from a big-ticket movie star to a professional poker player, they’re not terribly interesting. Everyone sits around the kitchen table and talks. When that interminable conversation finally breaks up, they head on over to the hot tub to sit around and talk. Afterwards, they break up into smaller groups to, by and large, sit around and talk.
‘Most Likely to Die’ gets so caught up in exploring its characters and how the relationships between them have changed over the past ten years that it forgets to be a slasher flick. Aside from the elaborately staged discovery of Ashley’s body, there’s really only one gruesome effects set-piece. Too many of the other kills are either routine stabbings, take place off-screen, or are obscured to the point that they might as well have been off-screen. Most of the attacks are directed towards people’s necks for whatever reason too, so if you’re ever alone in a room with director Anthony DiBlasi, at least you know what to protect.
This is a movie where the killer pounds out the football team’s fight song on an overturned bucket as he inches ever closer to Gaby. He chucks a razor-sharp graduation cap at his prey a la Oddjob. ‘Most Likely to Die’ is obviously too ridiculous to work as a character-based suspense film, yet it takes itself entirely too seriously to be a dumb, fun throwback to ’80s slashers. It’s the worst of both worlds. I’ve skipped all of my own high school reunions, and if I could do it all over again, I think I’d have to pass on this one too.
‘Most Likely to Die’ is on Netflix, so if you still feel like rolling the dice, the most you stand to lose are 80 minutes of your life.
[Editor’s Note: Adam Tyner is a longtime friend of this blog and a regular contributor to our Weekend Roundtables. I’ve harassed him for years about writing more regularly for us and he finally relented. One Man’s Trash will be a recurring column about one of Adam’s favorite topics, schlock cinema. -JZ]