Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Although Dallas Jackson's slasher movie sticks closely to formula, telling this story with a cast comprised entirely of people of colour means that everything is different."

It begins when they're 13 years old. Old enough to plan what they're doing but not ready to take responsibility when it all goes wrong. Everybody is this group of friends despises Chauncey. He shuffles when he walks, he stutters, he's not one of them. So one day they devise a scheme to lure him into an abandoned house, where they run around in skull masks taunting him. Terrified, Chauncey lashes out. A girl falls from a balcony. Unwilling to admit to their part in what happened, the other kids allow him to be carted off to jail.

Five years later, on the even of the Compton High senior prom, Chauncey is seen in the street. He's been released. He's older now, bigger, and he carries himself in a different way. The teenage plotters start to get nervous. They know that they're guilty. What if he's out for revenge? A murder in a nearby street at night turns that nervousness to real fear. Somebody seems to be stalking them.

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And there's the rub. Although Dallas Jackson's slasher movie sticks closely to formula (with great production design leading to beautifully subtle recreations of classic genre settings), telling this story with a cast comprised entirely of people of colour means that everything is different. When a white teenage girl is murdered, everybody gets up in arms. When three black men are brutally slain in an alleyway, even black police officers shrug and treat is as just more of the usual. Nobody is coming to help these kids. It's a point that really hits home during the final credit sequence, in which sepia toned still images reveal the real life horror of life for a black teenager in prison.

The first hint of this comes from the Lady of Rage as Chauncey's mother. There's a rule in film and TV that distressed loved ones keep their reactions muted even if that's unrealistic, less they detract from the main plot. The Lady does anything but. The distress she expresses as the police take her boy away is visceral, something that will cut to the heart of any parent watching. Though we see relatively little of Chauncey himself, and even less of his face, what we do see, post-jail, is similarly intense. Jason Woods has a wild-eyed look that eats up the screen. He looks damaged in a way that goes far beyond the gurning and gimmicky of most genre villains. It makes the viewer feel afraid of him and afraid for him at the same time.

If all this sounds like rather heavy going, there's plenty of lighthearted stuff too, especially in a sub-plot about a teenager persuading a rap star to accompany her to her high school prom. And there's a real star too, with Wu-Tang Clan's RZA quietly impressive as the principal of Compton High. He also wrote the wisely understated soundtrack.

The film is a little slow in places and distinctly less gory than many of its ilk, which will disappoint some genre fans, though others will find that this helps them to suspend disbelief. The young cast are all solid in their roles but, with the exception of former model Jessica Allain, they don't really get much chance to show us what they can do. One hopes that they get more opportunities to do so in the future. All in all, this isn't as strong a film as it might have been but it's still a welcome contribution to a subgenre that has been dominated by white people for far too long.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2019
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A childhood prank comes back to haunt a clique of South Central Los Angeles teens when their victim returns home during their high-school Homecoming weekend.

Director: Dallas Jackson

Writer: Dallas Jackson, Ken Rance

Starring: Jessica Allain, Pepi Sonuga, Jason Woods, Chauncey Jenkins, Jully Lee, Luke Tennie

Year: 2018

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


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