It’s not easy being a teenager. There are the pressures of school, tonnes of hormones, and the looming responsibilities of adulthood to contend with, all while coming to terms with how terrible the world really is. EXTRACURRICULAR tells the story of four kids who find an unusual way of venting all this teenage angst: meticulously planned and executed serial killings. Director Ray Xue takes a classic slasher film formula (multi-clique teens hunted by a relentless killer), and flips it on its head, delivering an entertaining – if underdeveloped – horror that feels like fresh steps in a genre constantly plagued by retrodden ground.
EXTRACURRICULAR opens in a similar way to many other slasher films – with a double murder. The victims are a young couple, on a romantic retreat in the woods, who find their getaway brutally interrupted by a group of attackers in light-up masks. When the screaming stops the film cuts to a diverse group of teens hanging out in a local burger joint, talking about all the normal high school stuff: sports, AV club, yearbook, and the gruesome killings that they just carried out. From there, the film follows the teens as they plan and execute more murders, and the consequences when things inevitably deviate from the plan.
There’s plenty of horror film heritage in the DNA of EXTRACURRICULAR, with the basic setup of a group of archetype teenagers involved in a serial killer plot bearing a strong resemblance to the SCREAM, FRIDAY THE 13TH and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER franchises, to name a few. Writers Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango present an interesting twist on this trope by showing the group of killers struggling to fit their acts of ultraviolence into their already packed high school schedules, in a story that starts quite basic but builds to a dramatic and satisfying ending. Centring the audience in the point of view of the killers may seem like it would remove the much-needed element of surprise from the murder scenes, but by keeping the viewer ignorant of the finer points of the group’s plan, the film manages to retain tension and suspense when the lights go out, and the masks come on.
From the outset, the killers seem to be as generic and archetypical as they come: Miriam (Brittany Raymond) is an overachieving, type-A perfectionist, Derek (Keenan Tracey) is a brash meathead jock, his girlfriend Jenny (Brittany Teo) is a pretty and preppy Mean Girls type, and Ian (Spencer MacPherson) is an insufferably smug and nihilistic school shooter waiting to happen. Some late-game twists see slight deviations, with both Raymond and MacPherson’s characters having moments of remorse, and Teo’s Jenny emerging as the most dangerous and evil of them all, but these adjustments all feel too little and too late to make any lasting impact on the overall impression of the characters.
Though there are very minor and unsatisfactory hints at depth for these shallow characters (expressed via throwaway lines about Jenny’s dad not caring about her, and Ian being a fan of Nietzsche), the motivations behind the murders are never explored, leaving the group feeling less like believable killers and more like a moody teen’s daydream. Of the four, Miriam is the only one that sees any real character development, via a burgeoning relationship with Layla (Shanel Julia Maida), but even that subplot lays seeds that never reach fruition. Given the brief 90-minute runtime, it feels like a missed opportunity that the film wasn’t padded a little to accommodate some much-needed backstory for these four horsemen of the angstpocalypse.
With an original twist on a well-worn formula, and a group of promising characters, EXTRACURRICULAR had plenty of potential to be something great, and the genre elements bring plenty of tension and fright to the slasher scenes. Unfortunately, the lack of development and motivation for its cast of killers lessens much of the impact of the final act, leaving the more devastating turns feeling hollow. The end result is a satisfactorily fun and exciting film, but for full marks, EXTRACURRICULAR really needed to show its working.