Mix “The Breakfast Club” with “Ten Little Indians,” then sprinkle with suggestions of supernatural influence, and you have “Bad Kids Go to Hell,” a slickly produced and brazenly clever piece of work that could attract a cult by sheer dint of its ingenious nastiness and self-aware snark. Traditional multiplex bookings likely won’t work well for a guilty pleasure so obviously designed for consumption during midnight screenings at niche fests and similar genre-friendly venues. But this polished indie thriller could raise some hell as a homevid item after limited theatrical exposure.
Working from their own graphic novel, scripters Matthew Spradlin and Barry Wernick have concocted a smartly seriocomic scenario that is both twisty and twisted. Doubling as director, Spradlin aptly accelerates the pic’s pacing with the aid of fluid camera movement by lenser David Blood and propulsive cutting by editor Justin Wilson. The briskness of the storytelling is especially effective in the many flashbacks introduced during the time-tripping storyline, as Spradlin gradually reveals motives and backstories of his central characters — and gives his audience an ever-increasing number of reasons not to wish them well.
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It’s a dark and stormy Saturday at Crestview Academy, a private high school where counselor Dr. Day (Jeffrey Schmidt) has summoned five students — spoiled Tricia (Ali Faulkner), high-strung Megan (Amanda Alch), nerdy Tarek (Marc Donato), jock Craig (Roger Edwards) and goth-chick Veronica (Augie Duke) — for eight hours of detention. A sixth student, bad boy Matt (Cameron Deane Stewart), more or less gate-crashes the detention session, just in time to be locked inside the school’s allegedly haunted library.
Veronica thinks the place is the perfect setting for a seance. Unfortunately, other students soon start dying “accidentally,” and there’s no way for the survivors to escape until Dr. Day returns and unlocks the inexplicably fortified doors.
The casting of “Breakfast Club” vet Judd Nelson in an extended cameo as the school’s officious headmaster is only one of the pic’s several wink-wink allusions to John Hughes’ 1985 teen classic. But the movie quoting doesn’t end there; visual and verbal references to everything from “Carrie” to “Twilight” to “Scooby-Doo” are scattered about like so much confetti.
For all its jokiness, however, “Bad Kids Go to Hell” generates a surprising amount of suspense, with teasing hints that the carnage is being caused by (what else?) the vengeful spirit of a Native American artist whose land was nefariously seized by school officials. The well-cast players — especially Duke and Stewart — offer performances that neatly balance sincerity and exaggeration, in keeping with the pic’s overall semi-satirical tone.
There’s at least one twist too many during the rapid-fire wrap-up — one that, it should be noted, doesn’t appear in the original graphic novel. But it’s sprung too late to do any real damage, or dampen the manic high spirits.