If there is one thing that can be said about the horror/slasher genre, it is that it is always entertaining. If it’s not, then it’s really not a slasher film now, is it? Even the word ‘slasher’ is so stylish that it warrants a deeper look. It’s a tool for cutting wood, except that this tool in a slasher film becomes the weapon for a serial killer. The new film Killer Book Club is a great specimen of an engaging and well-crafted film that has the responsibility to not only present to us a fresh slasher film but also tick off most of the checkpoints associated with this genre.
The bravery of director Carlos Alonso-Ojea is imminent right from the get-go. He is in no mood to hide behind a novel, esoteric treatment of the slasher. He wants to go toe-to-toe with filmmakers like Wes Craven and John Carpenter. For that, there was a real need to have a story potent enough that the uphill battle would have some chance of fruition. Although there is a postmodern approach to the story, it does work in the film’s favor. Eight college students, part of a book club, end up killing a professor in an attempt to teach him a lesson. A serial killer dressed as a clown starts to take out these eight horror nerds one by one, and not only that, with each kill, he starts to write a chapter on a site, describing the murder in gory and vivid details.
The conceit works well, and writer Carlos Garca Miranda ensures that the stakes are never lowered. Much of the story has to be made sense of through Angela, who was almost raped by her professor, a man by the name of Cruzado. He let her go eventually, but there was a warning attached to it that Angela shouldn’t tell anyone about the attempted rape. No one in the entire college knew except her book club friends. They could not have Angela living in fear, so a plan was devised. Masking themselves in the manner of a local prankster who wore a clown mask and terrorized people, they startled Cruzado, who tripped and fell from the upper floors to his death. Now, the book club members share a secret, and it is this secret that gives the killer their powers. A serial killer takes it upon himself to punish these ‘book club’ killers for this secret.
The eight friends get featured in the killer’s online novel, which he writes chapter by chapter, dedicating each chapter to a kill. Here, the self-referential nature of the film reaches its climax. The eight people are mentioned in the novel as the archetypes of the horror genre. Angela is the ‘heroine’. Her boyfriend, Nando, is the ’emo’. Sebas, the competitor for Angela’s love, is the ‘simp.’ Virginia is the ‘brat.’ Remaining there are Rai, the ‘wild’; Koldo, the ‘influencer’; Sara, the ‘babe’; and Eva, the ‘librarian’. Now, the film unfolds in such a way that it ensures that the killer couldn’t be someone outside of this bunch of horror archetypes. So the film kind of already points you in the direction of who will remain and who will get killed. Angela seemed to have the ‘plot armor’, as she was the heroine. Surprisingly, this doesn’t make the film any less exciting. The trick works, as then the film becomes not about who is the killer but about how these other people will die and how Angela will find out who the killer is. It engages the viewers further in the story.
The only problem with having these eight characters is that there is no way they can be well-established in the runtime of the film. So, the characters are kind of caricatures on some level. They fit the archetype so well only because there was no other way to deliver that sense of the archetype in such a short span of time. The wardrobe and make-up help the actors enhance the archetypal quality. They are introduced like time is running out, and there may be the issue of properly following which character is being talked about. The slasher film takes the gore factor seriously, and the killer seems to be invincible, which is another special feature of the slasher. The killer is usually someone who has supernatural or superhuman strength, and the film fulfills that trope to perfection. The one thing lacking in the film is humor. The film could have been more humorous, and that would have made it well-rounded. Sure, when the killer gets punched and kicked around and yet catches up with their victim or overcomes all odds, it is funny, but I don’t think it was always intentional. Also, there wasn’t a scene where there was any real respite from the overwhelming sense of doom. A scene of that kind only came at the very end, and it hinted towards a sequel.
The performances by all the actors leave something to be desired. Viki Vellila tries to be the ‘heroine’ of this slasher flick, and her scream is really effective. Her innocent face really makes one root for her, and yet, horror films require a special otherworldly terror in the performer’s eyes, which seems missing. The other actors were decent, but expressing the dread of getting killed by the clown killer was maybe not their forte. Killer Book Club is a sincere attempt to revive the horror genre and make it more contemporary. Some of the shots were meticulously planned, and the vibrant color palette weirdly complements the gruesome story. The film thus has the novelty that one would seek in this genre, and even though the pastiche vibes may make you wonder what the future of slasher movies is, this movie actually gives me hope that a new kind of slasher film is just around the corner. It will have the bloody murders, the archetypal characters, and all the trope-y scenes, but it will also have an edge-of-the seat story that will affect the audience in a meaningful way. Killer Book Club came very close to reinventing the genre altogether, and it certainly has done the job of paving the way forward.