Thursday, May 12, 2016

Most Likely to Die: Death by Superlative

According to the old joke, if you can remember your high school years you probably didn’t have much fun at the time. However, it was the job of Gaby and her popular friends on the yearbook staff to help their classmates remember. Unfortunately, they did something terrible to a shy loner in their class that he can never forget. Perhaps he is the mystery man in the cap and gown who comes to slash his way through their reunion in Anthony DiBlasi’s Most Likely to Die (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Seriously, popular kids on the yearbook staff? Student Senate would be more likely (if you will), but evidently their faculty advisor was quite a hot number, so maybe we can buy it. Regardless, as staffers, they were able to prank the much abused John Dougherty with a disturbingly scratched out picture in the yearbook, with the senior superlative: “most likely to die.” It wasn’t funny at all, especially when the freaked out kid pulled a gun out of his locker, earning himself a life-crushing expulsion. Don’t worry, they are going to get theirs.

The “popular yearbook staffers” are meeting up at the remote luxury home of NHL wash-out Ray Yoder for some pre-reunion partying. Although their host and his regular hook-up Ashley are missing, someone has really decked the place out. The big blow-ups of their senior yearbook pictures would be nice, except for the big X painted over Ashley’s photo. Of course, it quickly becomes apparent the killer intends to keep score this way, bumping them off one-by-one, in a method somehow related to their superlative.

Naturally, it takes everyone a while to figure out the gravity of their situation, because they are distracted by old resentments and attractions. Gaby is especially put out to learn they will be joined by Brad Campbell, the ex who abandoned her when she got pregnant, absconding to Hollywood, where he found fame on a television detective show. To add further insult, he is bringing his latest supermodel girlfriend, Bella. Naturally, Yoder’s pad is in a remote canyon, so the lack of cell service is relatively credible. The razor-sharp mortar board is also quite the formidable weapon, but the discovery of Yoder’s hidden handgun will help even the odds (so do not expect an endorsement from Mike Bloomberg anytime soon).

It is not often the “final girl” is a professional poker player, but such is the case with Gaby. She might have been done wrong by Campbell, but it is hard to gin up much sympathy for any of the Graduate’s victims, but that is the tried and true E.C. Comics tradition. In fact, DiBlasi and screenwriter Laura Brennan consciously riff off vintage 1980s slasher films in fitting ways. They even give us a scene down the stretch we have always wanted to see in a horror movie (you’ll know it when you see it).

Of course, Most Likely is nowhere near as horrific as the television show Glee for which lead actress Heather Morris is best known (if you doubt it, just check out this clip, if your stomach is strong enough). Still, she is appealingly down-to-earth by slasher genre standards. Ryan Doom is appropriately luggish as Campbell, whereas Perez “Don’t Call Me Paris” Hilton is about as shticky and annoying as you would expect as the flamboyant Freddie. Yet, Tatum Miranda ironically displays the most likable screen presence as the more-self-aware-than-you-would-expect Bella.

Essentially, Most Likely is an homage with a body count, but some of the worst violence actually happens off screen. DiBlasi is faithful to the established genre conventions, while consistently finding ways to tweak them. It is not as inventive and subversive as The Final Girl or They’re Watching, but it maintains a high energy level and a healthy balance of attitude and nostalgia. Recommended for old school slasher fans, Most Likely to Die opens tomorrow (5/13) in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall.