Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Hubrisween 2019 :: Y is for You Might Be the Killer (2018)

The blood and viscera are already flying most righteously when we drop in on Camp Clear Vista, where head counselor Sam is terrified and on the run and in desperate need of some shelter. And find this Sam (Kranz) does in an empty cabin, at least temporarily, as he tries to clean enough blood off of his face so the recognition software on his cell will unlock to make a call to his best friend, Charlotte -- a/k/a Chuck (Hannigan). Seems Chuck is an expert on the horror genre, the occult, and macabre stuff in general; and since there’s a psycho killer on the loose at a summer camp, who’s already killed off most of the other counselors; and after leaving a voicemail at the nearest Sheriff station, where no one will be coming on duty until the following morning, Sam feels this friend is his best bet to get him out of this dire situation alive.

Here, between serving customers at the bookstore she works at, Chuck calms him down, asks for more details, and Sam gets her updated on the body count -- eight thus far, he thinks, maybe more, and recounts two gruesome murders he actually witnessed via flashback. These flashbacks then continue as Chuck presses Sam for further clues as they try to identify who the killer might be so he can stop them. And so, he starts at the beginning, sort of, with orientation day for the other counselors at Clear Vista, with the actual campers due to arrive the next day.

Among the counselors we have -- well, had, Drew (Bellamy), the first victim, who died in the woods near the graveyard; Ted and Alice (Gallegos, Chong), victims 2-3, murdered near the swimming pool; Bob and Carol (Jaymes, Brown), victims 4-5, ripped and bashed to pieces in the kitchen; Steve the Kayak King (Price), victim 6, strung up and gutted near the docks; Freddie and Nancy (Murillo, DesOrmeaux), victims 7-8, whom Sam saw dismembered on the main road. And then there’s Jamie, Heather, and Brad (Harvey, Wells, Walker), and Sam’s ex-girlfriend, Imani (Hall), who are, as far as Sam knows, still alive, too, and trying to stay that way just like him.

But that’s as far as the phone conversation goes as Sam must hang up because the killer has found him, doused his cabin refuge with gasoline, and must escape before being burned alive. Once more eluding the killer after a few harrowing turns, Sam calls Chuck back, who’s been trying to sort out everything she’s been told. So far, Sam hasn’t been the most reliable of narrators as his recollections have been pretty scattered and nonsensical as the day's events constantly shift and overlap. Not surprising since he’s also been suffering from some mysterious blackouts all day.

But the overall picture of what happened is starting to come together for Chuck, and her conclusions are pretty grim -- especially for Sam. And to confirm her suspicions, Chuck first asks if Sam is covered in blood. He is, coated in it, but then realizes none of it is his own.

Next, she asks if he has a mask in his possession. He does, a simple wooden thing with hollowed-out eyes found in his knapsack (-- perfect for a Groot cosplay), but he has no real idea how he came into possession of this -- let alone the bloodied machete adorned with animal bones he’s holding in his other hand. And with that, adding it all up, Chuck must break it to her oldest and dearest friend that he might’ve been the killer all along...

Back in 2017, sci-fi / fantasy authors Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig somewhat innocently got themselves into a twitter exchange where Sykes claimed to be a would be victim of a slasher movie based at a summer camp, and then Wendig started responding to his calls for advice as they plowed through the usual scenarios and slasher tropes and improvised their own mini-horror movie. 

And at some point, through a series of 70-odd tweets of questions and answers, Wending determined Sykes was really the killer all along, was doomed to die, and to be wary of any final girls lurking around, but not to worry too much because he’d probably be back for the sequel.

This comical exchange soon went viral. (You can read the whole thing right here.) “When a thing goes viral, it takes on a weird life of its own,” said Wendig on his blog, Terribleminds. “Meaning, we started fielding offers to make our Twitter thread into something -- a YouTube series, an animated short -- but at the end of the day, we had two guys, Craig Engler and Tom Vitale, [who] had a vision for it, and it was a movie. And we said, 'Hell yeah! Sign us up.'"

Engler had spent 15 years as a senior executive at the Syfy Channel, where he helped launch several popular series, including the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Warehouse 13, and Eureka, while also overseeing the channel’s digital domain. In late January of 2018, AMC Networks hired Engler to be the new general manager of their Shudder streaming service, which catered to fans of horror and science fiction, where he would oversee original programming development and devise strategies to broaden the streaming service’s appeal to a larger genre audience, like, say, make a kooky horror movie based on some even kookier viral tweets.

Vitale, meanwhile, was a producer, whose Curmudgeon Films provided a ton of fodder to fill up those time slots on the SyFy and Chiller Channels -- Flu Bird Horror (2008), Triassic Attack (2010), Deadly Descent: The Abominable Snowman (2013), who also migrated to Shudder when NBC shut down Chiller at the end of 2017.

Vitale then consulted with Sykes, Wending, and the film’s director, Brett Simmons, whom he’d worked with before on The Monkey's Paw (2013) and Animal (2014), to expand the tweetstorm into a workable script before shoring-up the financing with a consortium of SyFy Original producers whose resumes included Rage of the Yeti (2011), Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011), and Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012).

Thus and so, less than one year after Sykes initial tweet, filming for You Might Be the Killer (2018) was underway in Louisiana by May, 2018, and then made its debut as a Shudder exclusive later that same year in December. And in their effort to expand on the scenario Sykes and Wendig had hash-tagged out, the finished film is less of a deconstruction of a slasher movie and more of a running meta-commentary as it becomes readily apparent that Chuck is right in her assumptions and it’s not the killer who is after Sam but the other surviving counselors, who are defending themselves against the real killer, which, of course, was really Sam all along. Well, sort of.

See, as a traumatized Sam keeps trying to piece his faulty memory together for Chuck, we keep flashing back to earlier events of the day: We see from the initial orientation meeting that Sam has confiscated everyone else's cell phone, and how he’s still crushing on Imani, who dumped him last year, calling it just a summer fling. And later that night, around the campfire, Sam talks of an old urban legend that has haunted Clear Vista since his family took over the summer camp about a decade ago.

Seems back in ye olden days, a woodcarver was compelled to make a mask, unlike any other, with dark, empty eyes that “drank in the light, sucking all the goodness out of the world” from the wood of a cursed tree he unwittingly chopped down, which apparently had been housing a malevolent spirit, which had been trapped inside the mighty oak by a powerful Cajun medicine man nearly a century ago. This demon then possessed the woodcarver to put the mask on, which caused him to murder his entire family and several other settlers until a young woman managed to kill him. And as the legend concludes, this evil mask was buried with the woodcarver, whose grave is located on this very property.

And while Sam ends this campfire tale with a jump-scare assist from Steve the Kayak King, he warns everyone to heed his tale because those reports of strange goings on in the area are all too real. Undaunted, Imani rallies the others into an impromptu scavenger hunt, where the winner is the first to find the grave and recover the alleged death mask.

Obviously, Sam is the one to find it -- though technically, Drew found it; and she’s the one who slapped the mask onto Sam’s face as a joke over his vehement protests to leave well enough alone. Now possessed, Killer Sam retrieves the woodcarver’s machete, its hilt made from the jawbone of a gator, from the nearby stump of the accursed tree, and then the killings begin in earnest.

Later, when Sam is talking to Chuck, he tries to destroy the mask; but smashing it or burning it does no damage. And as the other counselors draw near, the mask starts compelling Sam to put it on again. And with all that out of the way, with the killer identified, Chuck is starting to care less about how all of this happened and more concerned with who is still left alive -- specifically if there are any girls left. A final girl, if you will.

At this point, Sam’s memories are mixing with the mask’s as he watches the carnage as if detached from his body. He’s pretty sure he’s already killed Imani, too, victim 9, who fell into one of the tiger traps they set up to catch the killer, when they realized all the phones were missing, the camp’s lone vehicle had been sabotaged, and the remaining campers decided to get proactive.

Now here is where the rest of the campers discover Sam was the killer all along, when he attacks Imani and Heather, victim 10, who gets decapitated, leaving only Brad and Jaime left. Don’t sweat Brad, says Chuck, but worry about Jaime. And it was Imani’s death that allowed Sam, who had a strong emotional connection to the victim, to finally resist the demon long enough to wrench the mask off. Of course the other survivors aren’t aware he was possessed and are now trying to actively kill Sam in the interest of self-preservation, which is where we all came in.

Fair warning, You Might Be the Killer’s narrative is non-linear. We start right before the climax and then work our way back from there through a series of flashbacks and none of them are in any kind of sequential order. However, the film does have a fairly clever framing device as it keeps a running tab on the kill count, which either goes down or up to let the audience know where we are in the story. And to help shore up this thin premise also requires the viewer to cover a lot of the same ground, two to three times in most cases, but at least they’re all told from a different perspective: Sam’s, Killer Sam, or another counselor as the kill-count keeps fluctuating wildly.

Of course, none of this works unless Sam legitimately doesn’t know what he’s doing. Fran Kranz brings a wonderful combination of Wile E. Coyote and a sincere earnestness to Sam, who is deep in denial despite all the gruesome evidence before him. And to make this hook of an unwitting killer work, the mask gets knocked off several times in the initial stages of the massacre to sew confusion, with Sam none the wiser. 

But it always turns up like a bad penny. As stated, the mask can be overloaded when its victim gets too emotional, and I like how it’s easier to keep the mask off when there aren’t any potential victims around and how it becomes a lot more aggressive to be adorned when there are.

And despite Sam’s pleas for an alternate solution, Chuck says his fate is sealed and he’s destined to die. And frankly, after opening a camp on haunted grounds, he probably should’ve seen this all coming. For even if he kills Brad, which he does, victim 11, whose arms are chopped off before he’s disemboweled, trying to kill Jaimie will only get Sam killed that much quicker by speeding up the final showdown. But what if there were two final girls?

Yeah, turns out Imani wasn’t quite dead, only partially impaled and played possum, trying to stay off the killer’s radar. Together, she and Jaimie manage to trap Killer Sam in the tool-shed, with the mask knocked-off in the melee. Once again, Not Killer Sam tries to explain it wasn’t really him but the demon mask, and even has Chuck explain the concept of possession and a final girl to them over the phone, saying maybe they can all survive this experience since there are two final girls instead of one that he insists will short-circuit the inevitable conclusion of this deadly nonsense.

But in a late twist, this proves counter-productive after Chuck explains the rules on how all this has to end, when one of those Final Girls decides to make sure she’s the lone survivor by bumping off the other one. Thus and so, Imani attacks Jaimie, who winds up killing the aggressor in self-defense. Chuck then tells Jaimie she must kill Sam at the grave-site to properly reverse the curse.

Meantime, Sam has managed to get the mask off again and has a plan. He allows Jaimie to pursue him to the gravesite near the stump, where he manages to convince her if they return the mask to the grave and bury it the curse will be broken. This all backfires and blows up in Sam’s face when, fearing to touch it again, he has the girl bury the mask. 

So no one should be all that surprised when Jaimie becomes possessed, kills Sam, calls Chuck to say it’s over, and then, still under the influence of the mask, wanders off to parts unknown as the sun finally rises. However, you might be surprised when, some two years later, Chuck gets a call from Sam, who is apparently back from the dead.

Aside from the egregious use of digital blood splatter, I found a lot to like about You Might Be the Killer. I love the killer’s signature look, but the main reason why any of this works at all is because the film is firmly anchored by the befuddled and frantic Kranz and Alyson Hannigan as the calm and endearing and all-knowing voice of reason on the other end of the phone. It all springs from them, and I don't know if this kind of a one note black comedy would have had the momentum it needed to escape the contrivance corner the makers had painted themselves into without them.

And while the film is genuinely funny throughout, it still gets really ferocious in spots and downright brutal on a couple of the kills -- looking at you, freezer door head-smashing. It’s far from perfect, sure, and You Might Be the Killer rides a very thin line of too much self-awareness at times, teetering on the precipice of a cloying wink and a nudge, and its haphazard structure should rightfully be a lot more confusing than it actually is, so kudos to Simmons and his editor, Stephen Pfeil, for making this all gel into such a bloody good time. 

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween! 26 Days! 26 Films! 26 Reviews! And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage as The Fiasco Brothers and Yours Truly countdown from A to Z all October long! That's 25 reviews down with just one -- 1, uno, eins, more left to go! Up Next: Meanwhile, Back in the Jungle with Francis Ford Fragasso...

You Might Be the Killer (2018) Curmudgeon Films :: Screen Media Films / EP: Varith Yimlamai, Justin Smith, Seth Needle, Yoram Kohanzadeh, Som Kohanzadeh, Craig Engler, Angela Meredith Furst / P: Griff Furst, Isaiah LaBorde, Brett Simmons, Thomas P. Vitale / CP: Sam Sykes, Chuck Wendig / AP: Yvette Marie Brown, Murray Anthony Roth / LP: Sherri Strain / SP: Marcus Lyle Brown, Brad Southwick / D: Brett Simmons / W: Thomas P. Vitale, Brett Simmons, Covis Berzoyne, Chuck Wendig, Sam Sykes / C: Andrew Strahorn / E: Stephen Pfeil / M: Andrew Morgan Smith / S: Fran Kranz, Alyson Hannigan, Brittany S. Hall, Jenna Harvey, Bryan Price, Patrick R. Walker, Jack Murillo, Sara Catherine Bellamy, Savannah DesOrmeaux, Carol Jean Wells, Peter Jaymes Jr., Olivia Jaye Brown, Jesse Gallegos, Clara Chong

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