[Movie Review] STUDENT BODY
Courtesy 1091 Pictures
A slasher film can have a thin storyline, a lack of engaging characters, or lackluster kills, but if it wants to be compelling, it can’t have all three. Add a tonal mishmash and plodding, repetitive pacing to those three strikes, and you’ve got STUDENT BODY, the feature debut from writer-director Lee Ann Kurr. Though the film raises interesting questions about high school power dynamics and tries to present a suspenseful slasher story, it rarely rises above lifeless meandering through school hallways.

Jane (Montse Hernandez) is a star student at Allendale, a wealthy private school. Her academic prowess drives a wedge between her and her childhood best friend Merritt (Cheyenne Haynes), who asks Jane to use her influence with their intense, Nietzschean math teacher Mr. Aunspach (Christian Camargo), and convince him to allow Merritt and her friends to retake the test they flunked. Disappointed in Jane’s desire to fit in with the cool kids, Mr. Aunspach becomes threatening, frightening her and leading her to complain to the principal (Maurice Hall), getting Mr. Aunspach fired in the process. The teacher doesn’t give up on Jane, though, and soon a math test is the least of the kids’ worries.

STUDENT BODY spends its first half trying to get viewers invested in its characters, but it rarely succeeds. They all seem like cardboard cutouts. Merritt is the poor little rich girl, a trust fund kid who insists on always getting her way and spouts lines like “Jane, chill your clit” and “Grow a uterus” whenever Jane balks at a scheme that will get her into trouble. Merritt’s friend Nadia (Harley Quinn Smith) is a bully whose primary personality trait is her rage. Ellis (Anthony Keyvan) is the generic cute guy, and Frenchie (Austin Zajur) is the comic relief. The actors do their best with the script — especially Zajur, who earns a few laughs along the way — but the characters are so thinly drawn that it’s a relief once the already small group starts to dwindle in numbers.

Courtesy 1091 Pictures

The film can never really decide what it wants to be. The first half feels like a teenage hang-out movie. The second half wants to be a tense slasher flick, but it can’t raise any tension. It vacillates between tongue-in-cheek and sincere, but it never commits to either mode. One standout moment occurs when the killer appears at the end of a hallway, wearing the comical school mascot costume, and slowly stalks the kids as jaunty chamber music plays. Another highlight is when the mascot takes on a menacing quality as he stands motionless in a closet, watching the kids and waiting. Both are effective horror moments, but the movie doesn’t give either scene enough time to breathe, and it quickly abandons the humor of the hallway scene and the terror of the closet scene in favor of yet more ‘talk, scream, run, hide’ sequences with the survivors.

STUDENT BODY wants to say interesting things about the imbalance of power between adult teachers and young students. Mr. Aunspach is a bitter man who thinks he’s superior to the children he’s been charged with educating, and he — along with other power-starved teachers with chips on their shoulders — does more harm than he realizes or intends. That, or he does exactly as much harm as he intends, which is even more sinister. But despite Christian Camargo’s suitably creepy performance, the message gets lost in the protracted scenes of the kids getting drunk in the school or the repetitive third act.

The film also introduces an intriguing idea in the form of the school’s security. New cameras and bulletproof glass have just been installed in the school, and these same security measures that are ostensibly designed to protect the students end up trapping the five friends as a killer stalks them. The irony of safety precautions turning a school into a death trap could have been a sharp look at the ways that schools fail to keep kids safe, but the idea is abandoned early on after a throwaway remark about how useless the security measures are. It’s an interesting concept that the script loses interest in far too quickly.

Though we should of course hold slasher films to as high a standard as any other movie, there are joys to be found in slasher movies that fall short in certain areas. The problem with STUDENT BODY is that it falls short in too many ways. Though the film has moments where it shines, it simply doesn’t have enough of them, and it quickly abandons its most interesting ideas. School as a source of horror can be relevant and terrifying — who among us hasn’t had a frightening teacher or a school that undermined our safety? — but STUDENT BODY sets up a premise it can’t deliver on and fails its own test.

STUDENT BODY is available digitally on February 8, 2022.

Jessica Scott
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