For a slasher about students achieving their full potential, Student Body doesn’t heed its own message. Writer/director Lee Ann Kurr’s feature debut about hormonal teens and blacksmith mascots belabors its less horrific John Hughes vibes, aiming for Diablo Cody taking a crack at writing Nickelodeon’s first splatter flick. It’s not exactly subtle, nor does it care to shock us with exceptional surprises, but maybe that’ll be all aces for younger audiences. Indies like Tragedy Girls or Dance of the Dead hog all the horror-homeroom pep while Student Body is left trying to rally, although it’s a smidge slicker than something exhaustively paint-by-numbers such as Into The Dark’s School Spirit.
Jane Shipley (Montse Hernandez) is a prep school star who’d rather hang with popular bestie Merritt Sinclair (Cheyenne Haynes) than apply herself. Mathematics instructor Mr. Aunspach (Christian Camargo) confronts Jane over her wasted intellect—something about Jane being a “hammer” who does the work and Merritt’s cronies being “fiddlers” who squander larger purposes. Jane counters by accusing Mr. Aunspach of harassment, which leads to his termination. Allendale’s halls are now safe for slackers who sneak in on weekends to raid hidden stashes of teacher’s whiskey—or so Jane and her gang assume until mascot “Anvil Al” starts caving skulls with mighty swings.
Student Body only focuses on five teens when it matters, limiting slasher kill sequences. Kurr establishes dynamics of jealousy, secret crushes and general disobedience before the blood spills, which takes its time and then underwhelms through sheer volume. Jane, Merritt, anti-establishment photographer Ellis (Anthony Keyvan), athletic aggressor Nadia (Harley Quinn Smith) and pint-sized goofball Eric (Austin Zajur) scurry in typical panic. With only a few bodies to count, there needs to be more than one-hit cranium smashes with a steel weapon. It’s a slasher, but one hindered by its shallow roster and limited effects (especially what little can be shown on camera).
Therein lies the bigger issue: Student Body’s reliance on generational dialogue that fails hipness tests and pits besties as enemies. Jane and Merritt fight over boys (one unknowingly) while Eric bemoans his missed shot at mascot stardom, all very whelming as high school soap operatics. Some lines are word soup head-scratchers, although the teens’ performances muster stronger chemistry than the material suggests. Their impromptu dance party after classroom hours (who sneaks back into school to rage?) produces authentic smiles, and actors sell their stereotypes. Haynes owns her glittery purple lightning bolt earrings almost as well as her luminescent matching jacket, while Hernandez anxiously struggles with popularity versus intellectual merit. Then everything collapses when their night turns to chaos.
Behind the stonework exterior of an uptight academy is a more standard high school landscape lined with lockers where Anvil Al stalks. Mechanical security gates and a red-lit photography darkroom stage two spotlight showdowns, but there’s no standout style to the sterile cinematography that never feels overwhelmingly theatrical. The idea of a mascot—even this paper mâché lookin’ metalsmith get-up—slaughtering students sounds like tremendous fun, but again I reference the production’s limitations. Student Body can be graded on a slight curve due to the capable ensemble, however, neon lighting floods aren’t enough to inject zip and vigor into a continual chase with reusable hammer bashes that dispatch characters with ease.
Kurr recalls slashics like Slaughter High, but her low-budget affair does little with its centerpiece danger. It’s more a character dissection about complicated adolescent decisions and wasted youths, which doesn’t quite crack top honors either. There’s plenty to be said about drunkard bullies, vengeful mean girls and other high school conflicts that will forever be narrative fallbacks, except there’s more Student Body strives to deliver. Expressive and appropriate costume design looks the part, but the experience doesn’t fully embrace what kill-or-be-cracked-open thrills are openly promised.
Director: Lee Ann Kurr
Writer: Lee Ann Kurr
Starring: Christian Camargo, Montse Hernandez, Cheyenne Haynes, Harley Quinn Smith, Austin Zajur, Anthony Keyvan
Release Date: February 8, 2022
Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.