The end of school is fast approaching and a group of four American teens are juggling school activities with their burgeoning career as serial killers. They plan one last kill to go out in style. But then things go horribly wrong.
I have a confession to make. I’m often a sucker for the villain of the piece. If they’re charismatic, charming and easy on the eye the hero of the piece may have their work cut out for them gaining my sympathies. Making the protagonist a killer is a bold move and one which has been embraced in the past by films such as One Hour Photo, where we follow Robin Williams and his serial killing ways and dark comedies such as American Psycho, Heathers and most recently the underseen Tragedy Girls. So it’s a shame that I liked the idea of Extracurricular far more than I liked the execution.
My issues with Extracurricular are twofold. Firstly it’s terribly po-faced. The teens take this murdering business very seriously and approach it with all the fun of a course in chartered accountancy. I mean I appreciate their dedication to their craft but it’s a tad dull to watch. Writers Matthew Abrams and Padgett Arango could have done with bringing a little levity and dark humour into proceedings to get the audience on board.
Secondly, unfortunately, I just hated the four leads. I mean really viscerally hated them. If your four protagonists are going to be the sort of murderous scumbags who handwave the murder of a pregnant woman because she’s not showing yet then they have to have some sort of redeeming feature. It isn’t hard to get audiences to side with anti-heroes. Patrick Bateman is a nightmare of toxic masculinity and yet because he’s played by Christian Bale at the height of his comedic powers we’re almost rooting for him. Walter White decayed into a truly terrible human being and yet we still wanted him to go out on his terms. Here Abrams and Arango’s write their characters as unlikeable, unrepentant killers while the performances are charmless and completely flat (verging on monotone at times). If you don’t like the leads in this sort of film the whole enterprise is just sunk from the beginning. In all honesty, I couldn’t quite tell what the writers and director Ray Xue were aiming for in relation to audiences’ sympathies with the leads. The victims are given equal weight and are hugely sympathetically throughout. Our four leads (and no I’m not naming the actors as that feels unkind) are our gateway into the world of the film and yet I hated them so had no investment in anything that happened to them. I sense the writers/director didn’t want us to like them but spending 80 minutes with people we just don’t care for is no fun at all.
Luke Goss pops up very briefly as a sheriff and the whole shebang heads towards a mean spirited ending which would have been far stronger had one element of it been left as a surprise and not spelt out in an earlier scene. The ending is also hugely reliant on the cops being very gullible and having zero forensics capability. The entire film plays out like an advert for open carry laws (the nice responsible white folk failing to have a loaded gun on hand when they need it to defend themselves is a recurring motif.) Also in the current political climate, the end message (intentional or otherwise) of what white people have to fear is…unhelpful.
Extracurricular is due out in the UK from Signature Entertainment and Frightfest Presents on DVD and digital on 21 October 2019.