He should have taken a cue from Peter.
Owen Matthews (Julian Morris) gets sent to a new prep school because he got caught dealing drugs. He meets a cute girl called Dodger (Lindy Booth) who gets him involved in a game the rich kids play that is something like duck-duck-goose, kinda sorta. The game works like poker in that bluffing and calling bluffs are far more important than the hand one has been dealt….
The players of the game are a bunch of shallow kids sent to an elite prep school by their rich mommies and daddies to keep them out of trouble until they get control of their trust funds. Owen’s roommate, Tom (Jared Padalecki), is a fairly bland guy who serves as Owen’s guide to the new school and its denizens, he fills in all the exposition we need. Mercedes (Sandra McCoy) aka “Mercy” is the standard rich bitch that is so very popular in this sort of story, she is present to be vindictive. Lewis (Paul James) is the token black guy, but his part is much more robust – his acting part, ya perverts – than that usually given to a minority character in a horror film, he’s dating Mercedes so there must be something wrong with him. Regina (Kristy Wu), the Asian girl, is more like a typical minority character in that she has a small ancillary part and quietly vanishes into the background whenever she’s not needed. Finally, there is fat guy Graham (Ethan Cohn) and stoner Randall (Jesse Janzen), two guys who are MIA for most of the running time and aren’t that important anyway. These kids do feel somewhat realistic as they are naught more than callow youths who have spent their whole lives being bored with the safety net of their parents’ money to keep them from suffering any real harm, responsibility is no friend of theirs. Despite all this, the characters are much more interesting than usual and make the film worth watching, no small feat for both the writers and actors considering that each character seems little more than a stereotype.
The game that the kids play is simple: guess who the killer is and expose him or her. One person is chosen to be the ‘wolf’ by the ‘shepherd’ and everyone else are ‘sheep’. Each person gets to accuse another of being the wolf and the loser of a vote is out. The winner is the sheep who accuses the wolf or the wolf if he or she is one of the last two players remaining. Seems simple enough that one wonders why a bunch of rich kids would sneak out after curfew, risking all sorts of trouble, and play this instead of snorting cocaine or shooting poor people or having angry sex or something. Still, it is great practice for later in life when they will have to discover the intentions of myriad jerkoffs seeking to take advantage of them in one way or another, but it seems unlikely that any of them would have the depth to see that. When the special variety of ennui that only affects the jaded wealthy youth sets in like a woman’s anger when she’s ‘fine’, they decide to take their game to a new level. Recently, a local town girl (Erica Yates) was murdered in the nearby woods. The teens decide to play the game for real. The new game has them playing with the whole school in some sort of undefined way.
The real game that they play in the whole school plays with the conventions of reality versus fantasy as it’s never clear if the threat is real or just one of the meat heads playing. In this way the plot becomes as intricate as a giallo, but never loses a sense of reality – nor, for that matter, does it approach the artistry either – instead it seems plausible throughout as Owen tries to separate reality from the game while making sure that the staff, including Rich Walker (Jon Bon Jovi), are none the wiser. The way that the script keeps moving is both interesting and plays fair with the viewer – there are no moments that don’t make sense in retrospect – making the film stand head and shoulders above the usual for this type. Hell, I’ll trade “visually stunning” for “making sense” any day, after all, who would you rather spend an evening with, a drunken, incoherent Asia Argento or Stephen Hawking? Yeah, maybe that was a dumb question, screw it.
But think of Asia Argento while you do…
Anyway, the twist in this film, while far from the most original ever, works. Because Owen does a Sherlock Holmesian summary of Dodger’s means of achieving her goal, her method is cogent and seems within the realm of possibility. Using her feminine wiles, she is able to gently nudge everyone into doing the things that she wants them to do while making it seem to them that they are doing what they wish, she has a great future as a wife of a rich and powerful man, or as a CEO. Some of the ways that things worked out were a bit implausible, but unlike the typical grand scheme, they were not impossible. This is where the script really shines, a reasonable plan executed in a realistic fashion – something far too rare in contemporary cinema because I fear that too many people not only put their brains in neutral while watching a film, but have lost the ability to drive a manual transmission at all. Endless bland entertainment like driving an automatic sedan through the Midwest, it gets you there, but the trip itself is meaningless. Enough of the driving similes, since Dodger’s goal was the death of Rich Walker – for the murder of good music no doubt – all she had to do was manipulate a teenage male into doing her bidding; for an attractive young woman that should be really difficult, right?
Where’s a drunken, incoherent Asia Argento when you need her?
Stuck up bitch.