It’s disturbing to me that Scream was made before most of the characters (and cast) of this film were born: the Wes Craven-Kevin Williamson movie is repeatedly evoked in director Clare Cooney and writer Jose Nateras’ smart, sharp, thoughtful and swift next-gen slasher satire … though there’s also talk of Stephen King’s school-set horror stories, another major reference since this features both a Billy Loomis-type masked murderer offing the mean kids in the last week of high school and a protagonist who gets pushed down stairs and comes to with psychic abilities (more Dead Zone than Carrie) which generally turn out to be only half-helpful in tackling the killing spree.
Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), Mexican and gay, and Bianca (Ireon Roach), African-American and gay, are the best buds on the case … while the bullies are jocks Trevor (Cameron Scott Roberts) and Brad (Sasha Kuznetsov) and blonde brain Ginny (Maisie Merlock), the potential new love interest is transfer student William (Ryan Foreman) and the liberal yet ineffectual teacher is Mr Arda (Yani Gellman – remember him from Jason X?). Things have moved on from the days of Carrie or Scream in many ways: racial and sexual diversity is a given, though prejudice and thuggery is still a feature of school life. Among the cleverest aspects of the film is understanding that people don’t have to be completely awful, with Javier and Bianca working hard to save people they have no particular reason to like and even the worst thugs in school gradually catching on that they’ve been horrible out of habit rather than conviction.
Diaz-Silverio’s immensely likeable Javier (a character who’d have been a minor victim in the slasher films of the 1990s) is gifted not with intuition – he keeps misreading his visions, to the extent of picking the wrong suspect after a through-the-maskholes-of-a-killer premonition – but with empathy. A few years ago, this would have been awash with social media stuff and clicks-for-kills jokes, but Departing Seniors has even matured past that stage of slasher and works up some charm and wicked humour just from chats the characters have between the standard but well-handled kills. The culprit is kind of guessable, but the reveal sets up a key realignment of sympathies and battle lines as Javier has to work out why after all he’s had to put up with he hasn’t become a monster.