Netflix’s Thriller takes the typical teen slasher and puts it in Compton. Unfortunately, moving the location to one rarely shown in genre film is not enough to save the movie from itself.
It begins with a bunch of mean kids. A big group of youngins get one of their own to lure the outcast at their school into an abandoned house for a prank. When the prank goes terribly wrong and one kid ends up dead, the group think quickly and blame the death on the outcast, Chauncy. He’s sent away to juvie and the gang keep the secret to themselves. But when Chauncy (Jason Woods) comes home after a few years of punishment, things start to go wrong and the kids who are all now seniors in high school start dying.
There’s certainly room for new slasher film and even new teen horror, but Thriller is far too weak on a number of factors to convince us that there’s still validity in those exercises.
First of all, the film has a fairly simple plot and easy to follow motivations, but keeps making the characters tell us why they’re acting that way, rather than showing us. The movie also cuts back to the prank to make it very clear which kid is now which teen. Not just once or twice, multiple times. This not only disrupts the flow of what should be mounting tension in a horror film, it’s completely unnecessary. It doesn’t really matter which kiddo was standing where back on that day, as they were all culpable and all deserve what’s coming to them.
The acting throughout Thriller is distractingly bad. The actors each say their descriptive lines, wait a beat, and then their scene partner says the next descriptive line. There’s no flow and no chemistry. It’s frustrating because I would have loved to see an emotional anchor within the cast, or a reason to become invested in their survival, but there’s no reason to feel any connection with these non-emotive people.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. Thriller essentially asks the audience to root for the survival of these teens when they all did a very bad deed and never suffered any consequences. Not only did they plan a cruel prank on a classmate who may have had developmental issues, they then blamed the death on him and got off scott free. The film is not nearly joyous or campy enough for us to delight in their pain and deaths as the mysteriously hooded slasher, and instead frames them as tragic and innocent characters who are being hunted by a crazed madman. The lack of understanding or empathy for Chauncy make the whole streak of vengeance feel cruel all over again.
Thriller is not anything you haven’t seen before, nor is it anything you haven’t already seen done much better. The South Central setting is novel, but not interesting enough to make it worthy of repeated viewings.