Believe it or not, the slasher flick is one of the trickier movie genres to get right. You have to have just the right amount of blood, for instance; too much grosses people out, and not enough turns off the fans who want to see some gore on the big screen. But you also need to make sure the story that fits around the murdering hooks people in. If the people getting chopped up are just cardboard stereotypes, audiences lose interest quickly. Throw in a good old-fashioned whodunnit, and you've got the makings of a classic blood and guts movie.
Killer Movie, which debuted at Tribeca on Thursday, gets many of these elements right. But it also has glaring flaws that keep it from being a cut above (pun intended) its slice-and-dice brethren.
Most of Killer Movie takes place in White Plains, ND, a town so remote that the Internet barely works and cell phone reception is fleeting at best. Jake Tanner (Paul Wesley), a reality-show director is sent there by his agent (Nestor Carbonell of Lost) to work on a reality show about a high school hockey team gunning for its first ever championship. But when he gets there, he discovers that Lee (Cyia Batten), the show's bitchy executive producer, has changed the game, deciding to concentrate on the "accident" that took the life of the daughter of the former hockey coach, who had just been sprung from prison after his murder conviction was overturned. Meanwhile, Tanner has to deal with Blanca Champion (Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory), a temperamental Lindsay Lohan clone who is sent to work as Tanner's production assistant as research for her first "serious" movie role. All of this is going on while a masked killer is on the loose and crew members are disappearing one by one.
Killer Movie is writer/director Jeff Fisher's first theatrical film. Because he was a director on reality shows such as The Simple Life, he gets that part of the story right, all the way down to the confessionals and side interviews that are a staple of the reality genre. And, although the characters aren't particularly deep or go through much in the way of emotional development, they're colorful enough to make you want to root for them to escape the clutches of the killer or, in the case of Lee, get what's coming to them. Especially good are the three leads, Wesley, Cuoco, and Gloria Votsis, who plays Keir, a level-headed crew member who was onto the shenanigans in the town from the beginning.
The movie has just enough blood to satisfy people who look for that kind of stuff, though some of the gore looked a little bit on the low-budget side. But Fisher really can't decide whether the movie is supposed to be funny or dead serious (again, pun intended). The funny parts aren't funny enough, and at times the tension isn't tense enough. If Killer Movie is supposed to satirize the world of reality TV, it didn't really do a very good job of it; most of the time, the reality show just serves as a backdrop to the hacking and slashing.
But the main thing that keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending Killer Movie is the identity of the killer himself. I can't say much without giving it away, but even after the person's identity was revealed, I kept scratching my head, trying to figure out who it was. I eventually figured it out, but too late for me to really enjoy the climax of the movie. There was just something about how the killer was portrayed after being unmasked that disconnected me from the person we encountered earlier. And, if you're going to set up a big reveal like that, you have to make it clear who it is that's being revealed.
For the most part, though, Killer Movie is a well-acted, enjoyable popcorn movie. But its flaws sink it to the level of "wait until it's on DVD," which is too bad, since it had the potential to do so much more than that.