On the surface, writer and director Lee Ann Kurr’s debut feature-length movie, Student Body, looks like just another slasher. High school students trapped inside a posh prep schools certainly doesn’t sound like it deviates much from expectations. At least Student Body isn’t another entry in a growing line of meta-slashers. And Kurr looks like she wants to merge slasher sensibilities with John Hughes-inspired high school melodrama. Despite a low budget, there’s some potential here for a subgenre hidden gem. To date, Student Body has slipped under the radar with only a handful of reviews.
At a posh private school, bright and introvert Jane Shipley struggles to fit in with her peers. Her childhood friendship with the rebellious Merritt is strained. But when Jane’s math teacher makes inappropriate overtures in private, she finds herself with a chance to get back in Merritt’s good graces. It’s a choice, however, that has deadly consequences for Jane and her new friends. Trapped inside their school, a killer disguised in the mascot uniform stalks the teens.
Student Body Eschews Body Count for High School Drama
Initially, Student Body feels like it might offer a different take on the slasher formula. Writer and director Lee Ann Kurr avoids early slasher trappings and largely regulates the horror elements to the sidelines. Instead, Student Body focuses on its teen characters and familiar high school dynamics. If it’s not entirely original, Student Body feels atmospheric and introspective. Both Montese Hernandez (Jane) and Cheyenne Haynes’ (Merritt) performances outstretch the stereotypes to which they’re assigned. In particular, Haynes makes for a charismatic ‘mean girl’. And Harley Quinn Smith (Tusk) gives a surprisingly good turn in a smaller role.
Instead, Student Body focuses on its teen characters and familiar high school dynamics.
Yet in spite of its early ambition, Student Body ultimately doesn’t go anywhere all that different. Once Kurr traps Jane and the popular kids inside the school, the movie largely resorts to what you’d expect out of any slasher. There’s few scares or jolts. And Kurr tosses out a couple of obviously pointless red herrings. By and large, characters die in the expected order. If you didn’t think Jane was ‘The Final Girl’, you haven’t watched many horror movies. What’s most disappointing is that Kurr shows potential. She bathes her horror scenes in neon lighting reminiscent of Giallo thrillers. And its final scene hints at the movie’s early promise.
Student Body Forgot to Do Its Homework on the Subgenre
If Student Body had embraced its slasher roots in its second half, it may have been derivative but still satisfying. With just a small core cast, this was never going to be a body count movie. However, Student Body fails to capitalize on an initial killing that’s shocking even if the actual act of violence occurs off-screen. Everything that follows this scene feels unimaginative. Slasher movies can be dumb and illogical. But audiences expect some creativity with the gore or a bit of overkill. Neither of those elements are present here. Not much blood spills here, which is probably indicative of the movie’s modest budget. Sluggish pacing doesn’t help.
Slasher movies can be dumb and illogical. But audiences expect some creativity with the gore …
What’s also missing is a memorable killer. As far as slasher villains masks go, Student Body’s ‘Anvil Al’ mascot costume isn’t the worst the subgenre has produced. No, Slaughter High’s ‘Jester’ mask still takes that prize. But ‘Anvil Al’ is too reminiscent of Happy Death Day’s ‘Bayfield Babyface’. In addition, Student Body’s killer – the obvious choice from the start – is bland. Maybe it’s the killer’s weak motivation or just the delivery in the role, but ‘Anvil Al’ isn’t that scary with the mask on or off.
Student Body Promises More, Delivers Less
In spite of its initial promise, Student Body ultimately falls short. All of the performances are strong. Moreover, for a slasher, this is a beautifully shot movie all washed in neon lighting. And maybe that’s Student Body’s problem. Clearly, Kurr had something more in mind than just another teen body count movie. But by the time the third act rolls along, Kurr gives us exactly that – a slasher movie. The end result is a movie that is likely to disappoint everyone. Slasher fans won’t get the brutal kills. And the art-house horror crowd may walk away feeling underwhelmed.