This review was updated on September 20, 2005.
Targeting the more traditional-minded horror-slasher-thriller fan — the one who prefers the old Wes Craven to the Craven of “Red Eye,” for instance — “Cry Wolf” is almost totally reliant on red herrings and the viewer’s nervous reflexes. Auds anxious to relish the imperilment of appealing teens gave the stand-issue shocker a mild $4.4 million opening weekend, indicating a short road to homevid.
It’s not that director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow doesn’t have a sense of humor or genre: At one point, his ethnically balanced band of practical-joking high schoolers almost leave their prep school for somebody’s lake house — the fact they don’t is a joke meant for the hardcore fan base. But genre eventually overwhelms ingenuity.
Our hero, so to speak, is English-accented Owen (Julian Morris), frequent transfer student — due to various offenses, which include having dated the previous dean’s daughter. His current encounter is with the saucy Dodger (Lindy Booth). While Booth slinks through the movie like a ¾-scale Nicole Kidman, Morris seems to think he’s in an episode of “Brideshead Revisited.” Not that this is bad: They’re enough unlike the characters found in similar movies as to inspire hope the rest of the film will be half as novel.
It’s not to be. The rest of the cast meets the standard social criteria for the mayhem movie: Tom, the quasi-Neanderthal football player and Owen’s roommate (Jared Padalecki); Mercedes, the slow-witted sexpot (Sandra McCoy); Randall, the abusive and apparently Anglophobic piercing enthusiast (Jesse Janzen); Lewis, the black guy (Paul James), and Regina, the Asian girl (Kristy Wu).
There are surprises intrinsic to the storyline, in which the group concocts a scheme to link a recent local murder to a supposed serial killer. Via email, Dodger and Owen manufacture an m.o. for their killer — all of which suddenly starts coming true. Is the murderer one of them? Is he the seemingly decent journalism teacher, Mr. Walker (a very decent Jon Bon Jovi)? Or is it … someone else?
There’s not enough tension to make the viewer care that muchfor the various hoaxes and faux-slayings perpetrated by the film’s largely unlikable gang of privileged brats.
In an era of increasingly sophisticated thrillers, “Cry Wolf” is a bit antique.