By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.
WTF! (2017), the debut feature from director and co-writer Peter Herro, is as dependent on slasher formula as it is stylistic boldness and storytelling innovation. The set-up concerns your usual assortment of cloying, drug-addled and sex obsessed teenage archetypes. Their destination is the equally garden variety isolated cabin in the woods. Tagging along is the reserved Rachel (in a solid depiction from Callie Ott); the sole survivor of a brutal massacre that occurred three years prior. She is continuing to suffer from the shock of the event. This is noted in her reaction to a graphic drawing a classmate composes in an early passage that takes place at Rachel’s high school. Herro, who penned the satisfying and aptly structured script with Adam Buchalter and Christopher Lawrence Centanni, also displays the same type of reaction in a later sequence. This is when Rachel glimpses a bloody fighting game being played by two young men. When an unknown killer begins to slaughter those around her once again, her sense of unease quickly controls her.
It’s a straight-forward concept. Yet, it comes together sufficiently well for a genre entry of this ilk. Peter Herro, whose guidance of the photoplay is riveting, makes the plot far more substantial than it is in retrospect. This is with an added police procedural component. Such oversees Rachel being interrogated about the recent carnage that has transpired. There is also the inclusion of Rachel’s flashbacks. Many of these recollections revolve around the foremost bout of murder that Rachel encountered. Though this is as much a trope as the characterizations stated above, Herro utilizes it in a manner that effectively gets viewers to understand and relate to Rachel. The bits which look beyond the terror and focus in on her relationships with others gives Ott’s persona increased dimension.
Herro spends nearly forty-five of the eighty minutes of this Cthulhu Crush Productions release following the Spring Break antics of those on-screen. Given that there is nothing unique about most of the individuals Herro populates the fiction with, the endeavor occasionally feels like it is merely treading water. There are some funny moments and broad attempts at developing our central figures in this division. Such makes the wait for the horror element to kick in worthwhile. Still, the slow movement in these sections, with nary an episode of suspense or build-up induced during this expanse, seriously hinders matters. Once the picture picks up, it delivers enough grisly kills and questions of whodunit to balance out the leisurely and ultimately underwhelming former half. The final twist, though obvious in hindsight, is assembled deftly enough that one can easily admire how slyly it was hidden throughout the runtime. There is also a collection of comic book-like renderings which can be spied during the concluding credits. Such incorporates extra layers of magnificence. This is via their eye-popping flair and general creativity.
Helping matters are the previously unmentioned performances. Sarah Agor steals the show as Lisa. Nicholas James Reilly is stalwart as Toby. Andrea Hunt as Bonnie, Benjamin Norris as Jacob and Adam Foster as Bevan are all spectacular in their respective turns. Chloe Berman as Jessie and Cheyann Dillon as Carla are transcendent. Johnny James Fiore is good as Sam.
Likewise, Justin Kemper offers truly gorgeous and immersive cinematography. It is especially impressive considering the small budget of the piece. Steve Parker issues proficient editing. Sabrina Castro’s make-up is phenomenal. Natalia Zuniga exhibits skillful costume design. The sound team contribution is masterful. Adrian Sealy provides terrifically tense and dramatic music.
The result is a lean and enjoyable arrangement. Though the exercise drags now and then, it opens with a captivating and sharply executed excerpt. It ends just as triumphantly. Furthermore, the wit at hand is made immediately apparent. This impression emerges when the primary words spoken in the representation are the title initialism cried out in full. Such a realization is reiterated when the commencing acknowledgments segment proves an imaginative spin on the evidence of a crime scene.
Even if Herro’s protagonists are routinely etched, it is all part of the joyous embrace of tradition so often found in these efforts. For example, the commonplace “car that won’t start so we can escape” scenario or the obligatory first act gas station stop. These permanent fixtures in the psycho on the loose narrative comfortably find their way into Herro’s affair. But, it is all in the spirit of old-fashioned, nail-biting fun. Such is among the reasons why these movies have remained so popular with audiences over the last several decades. These trademark items are just as successful in Herro’s opus as they have been in similar sagas. Even though this attribute makes for a presentation that can never be measured as groundbreaking, it is certainly absorbing. When combined with the complex touches Herro puts on the construction of the chronicle and a lead that resonates genuine interest, WTF! endures as many cuts above average.
Herro’s excursion into fear will be available on Video on Demand August 1st, 2017.