A close cousin to ‘Creepy Kids’ horror, high school horror movies have always enjoyed a small niche in the genre. After all, most people would agree that high school is generally pretty awful. And the angst, brooding, and narcissism that characterizes adolescence makes it fertile ground for horror. From the dark snark of Heathers and social media savvy of Tragedy Girls to more grim efforts like Elephant or MOM – Mothers of Monsters, high school hallways are still scary places. Enter Canadian horror-thriller, Extracurricular, that banks on a simple premise – what if the Honour Roll students were monsters in disguise?
Model students by day, murderers by night. Brothers Derek and Ian, along with Derek’s girlfriend, Jenny, and friend Miriam, seem like well-adjusted teens. But the tight-knit group spends their after-school hours plotting and executing sadistic murders. However, as the foursome picks their next target, in-group tensions expose new rifts and threaten their anonymity. Further complicating matters, the town sheriff – who also happens to be Derek and Ian’s father – is getting closer to the truth.
Extracurricular Struggles to Find Tonal Consistency
In its opening scenes, Extracurricular looks like it’s following the familiar ‘high school’ horror script. Arguably, the recent Tragedy Girls looks like the closest comparison in terms of aesthetics and tone along with a bit of Heathers. Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango’s screenplay gives us an early dose of hip teens wise to the slasher sub-genre’s rules. Horror fans have seen it before, and Extracurricular lacks the bite of a Tragedy Girls, Heathers, or Scream. Then, as if sensing they weren’t as hip as intended, Extracurricular shifts gears abruptly. What follows for a good chuck of its running time is a more plodding teen melo-drama. Tensions and rifts are exposed among the foursome as they plan out their next killing spree.
Too many character threads are introduced and left relatively unexplored.
After quickly giving on its early satirical tone, director Ray Xue aims for more of a psychological drama. As Extracurricular explores its teen killers’ lives, it draws comparisons to more serious high school horror like Super Dark Times. Unfortunately, Xue’s thriller lacks the substance to hold up in comparison to those movies. Too many character threads are introduced and left relatively unexplored. For instance, Xue’s cuts to the sheriff’s investigation – and closing in on his own sons – never elicits the intended suspense. Instead, these scenes distract from the central characters. Only one of the quartet of killers has a compelling character arc. Too bad Extracurricular fails to loses with an admittedly shocking turn of events.
Extracurricular Earns Bonus Marks for Compelling, Surprising Final Act
Though Extracurricular drags in its middle act, Xue ramps things up in the movie’s final third. First, Abrams and Arango’s screenplay delivers a few surprising turns that benefit from the movie’s earlier build-up. Given that not all the characters received the same investment from the screenplay, some of these surprises don’t elicit the full emotional gut-punch. But there’s certainly one unexpected turn that’s heartbreaking. Second, Xue makes up for what’s a somewhat clumsily executed slasher opening. As Extracurricular moves from slasher tropes to more serious violence, it becomes more compelling. In its final scenes, Extracurricular finds some urgency and tension in its material. There’s a few genuinely shocking acts of violence. If the ending feels a little unsatisfying, it’s not lacking for ambition.
Brittany Raymond Stands Out With an ‘Honour Roll’ Performance
Across the board, Extracurricular benefits from its young stars’ good performances. Brothers Derek and Ian, played by Keenan Tracey (Polaroid) and Spencer Macpherson, respectively, are convincing as budding psychopaths. Though Extracurricular often keeps her character in the background, Brittany Teo (Dare Me) delivers a subtly layered performance as Jenny. From a story-telling perspective, it’s a decision that makes sense. Still, one can’t help but wonder if Extracurricular would have benefitted from more of Teo. Much of Extracurricular focuses on Brittany Raymond’s ‘Miriam’, and Raymond rises to the occasion. Another Netflix Dare Me alum, Raymond gives a similarly layered performance. She’s by far the movie’s most interesting characters, and it’s a performance that hints at bigger things to come in the fortune.
Extracurricular Good But Falls Short of Potential
Despite its familiar premise and tonal inconsistency, Extracurricular proves to be a good, if not watchable, horror entry. On the one hand, Xue’s Canadian thriller doesn’t quite have the substance to justify its methodical middle act. Nevertheless, Extracurricular delivers some genuine shocks and tension in a better-than-expected finale. Some strong performances from its young cast further elevate this high school horror movie from more generic fare. It may not meet its full potential, but horror fans may still want to add this one to their co-curricular record.