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DVD Review - Cry_Wolf - Unrated Edition

January 18th, 2006

Recently Cry_Wolf was released on an Unrated DVD. The film, which was the product of the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Contest, was a small film that opened last fall to very low expectations. Most everyone expected a cheap Teenage Slasher, the kind that overpopulate the direct-to-DVD genre. Is the film destined to be stuck in that dubious company, or can it escape the limitations of the genre?

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:
When Owen Matthews arrives at the latest prestigious prep school his distant father was able to hide him away in, he immediately runs into Dodger Allen and there is an instant attraction. Later, his roomate takes him to the chapel where Dodger introduces him to a game of lies called Wolf. The rules are simple: avoid suspicion, lie to your friends, and eliminate your enemies.

After the body of a murdered waitress turns up in the woods near the school, they decide to expand the game with them as the wolves and the student body as the sheep. But what starts as a joke soon turns deadly and now they find themselves victims of their own game!

The next section contains spoilers, click here to skip to the Special Features section.

Movie Review:
This film reminds me a lot of The Interpreter. I know, that comparison seems like it comes out of left field, but hear me out. The Interpreter was advertised as a political thriller with a heavy emphasis on the action, but was really more of a suspenseful drama. Similarly, Cry_Wolf was advertised as Teenage Slasher Horror film, but it would be better described as a suspense film filled with plenty of, fake-outs, red herrings and twists, but no real scares.

Personally, I dislike Teenage Slasher movies. I find them derivative, cliched, and unless the filmmakers spent some time trying to make the character sympathetic, I don't care when they are killed off. So I was pleasantly surprised when the film turned out to be a much more intellectual suspense film. (Although if you listen to the audio commentary, they mention that the first draft was a straight up Slasher flick.) However, the amount of fake-outs started out as selling point, but in the end came close to feel like a crutch for a lazy writer. At several points there had to be scenes that felt like pure exposition thrown in just to help the viewer keep track. And even after the big confrontation scene at the chapel, I'm still not 100% sure why Lewis trashed just Tom's stuff. It seems based more on the history the characters have than anything that happens during the movie. (The reasons are actually given in the extended version of the game scene, which I talk about in the Special Features section and is proof that that scene should not have been trimmed.) Despite nearing that point, the numerous twists are still a selling point of the movie.

Another point going for the film is the cast, which is very solid given the young age of most of its stars. Out of the eight kids, only Jared Padalecki has enough name / face recognition to help sell the film, but the rest of the young cast of newcomers showed that they should have a successful career in the business. The pivotal roles in the movie were Owen and Dodger but despite the fact that most of the movie is from his point of view and Julian Morris is on screen in nearly every scene, this is really Lindy Booth's movie. If she doesn't nail the role of the ultra-manipulative Dodger the film will simply not work; fortunately, she does. On a side note, the first time I saw Lindy Booth she was 20 years old playing a character roughly her own age in Relic Hunter. Six years later she's playing a character nearly a decade younger than herself. At this rate she'll be playing toddlers by the time she hits 30.

On the other hand, the film has certain flaws that hold it back. The aforementioned overly complex plot is one of them, not only because it can confuse the moviegoers, but also it takes a long time to set up properly and that does slow the pace down. For instance, the scene in the Chapel on Halloween seemed like the writers have given up on trying to explain the plot and needed several minutes of exposition just so the viewer can stay on the same page as the filmmakers. Also, since it's loosely based on the legend of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, it has to follow certain plot points closely, so it can become predictable at times. Finally, a lot of the movie involved characters reading text on a screen, and as it is mentioned in the audio commentary, "There's nothing less cinematic than text on screen." I do applaud their efforts to make it more interesting, including the shot looking at the text from behind, which was very well done.

Speaking of visually effective scenes, there was some debate in the audio commentary whether or not the scene where The Wolf is built from over a hundred of plates works, or was worth the effort, but I thought it was very cool. And the same can be said for the, 'Flash Forward' scenes and their use of strikingly dissimilar photography to the rest of the movie.

Lastly, I have to discuss the Unrated Label. Many times the Unrated Label is just a marketing tool, and that's certainly the case here. There are a few different lines, less than a minute of additional gore, but even so there is nothing in the movie or on the disc that would warrant a NC-17 rating. In fact, I would still give it a PG-13 rating, (but I tend to be a little jaded when it comes to these things).

Special Features:
The special features are on par or a little better than most first-run releases with an audio commentary, a few deleted / alternate scenes, a few featurettes, etc. and not only are they better than average in quantity, but also better than average in quality.

Audio Commentary track with director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow, producer/co-writer Beau Bauman, and editor/associate producer Seth Gordon
Audio commentary is well done with a good mix of informative and entertainment, (but leans toward the former), and there are very few dead spots. The three participants spend time praising the actors, commenting on the color choices and other thematic issues, pointing out the occasional continuity errors, etc. It's better than many audio commentaries and worth listening to more than once. I did have a problem with the audio levels. Obviously when you have the audio commentary on the sound level of the movie is turned down really low, but most really good audio commentary when there's a break in the talking the movie returns to the normal volume. This was not the case here so when they occasionally say, 'Listen to this line,' we can't really hear it. It's a small complaint, but one that I thought was worth mentioning.

Deleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary -

  • Owen in the woods - 2:40
    Randall scares Owen in the woods for retribution for turning on him during the game. An early scare that helped set up the characters a bit, but it was rendering unnecessary by other changes to the movie.
  • The Hook Up - 2:40
    Owen and Dodger have a make-out session in his dorm room and nearly get busted by the R.A. Fun scene that does give some clues, but was cut because the filmmakers deemed the nature of the relationship between Owen and Dodger was not quite right for the film.
  • Extended Game - 7:40
    About 2 minutes longer than the version in the movie with a little more character development, including some important facts, and showing how the game can turn people on each other. It was cut for pacing reasons, but the scenes really works and it should have been kept in.
Alternate Version of the Game with Optional Audio Commentary - 5:50
A much different version of the game than what is scene in the movie with three wolves. Admittedly, it is interesting to watch, helps establish characters better, and really shows off Kristy Wu, Sandra McCoy, and Ethan Cohn's acting chops. However, it doesn't work as well in the movie and it was a good cut, but an equally good special feature.

Wolves, Sheep and Shepherds: Casting the Roles with Optional Audio Commentary - 14:00
Shows the casting tapes for practically the entire young cast including Julian Morris, Lindy Booth, Jesse Janzen, Sandra McCoy, Ethan Cohn, and Kristy Wu. The only members of the main cast that weren't included were Paul James, whose casting tape was lost, and Jared Padalecki, who was the first person cast. Another fine addition to the disc and one that worth watching, especially with the audio commentary on, although I thought they laid on the compliments a little heavy. Granted, Ethan Cohn is a good actor, but he's not Philip Seymour Hoffman good, (although the physical resemblance is undeniable).

Behind the Scenes: Enter the Sinister Set - 12:20
Not your typical making of featurette. It is comprised of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie but it's quite stylized, there's no narration, and only rarely does anyone talk directly to the camera and I think that's what prevented me from being fully engaged while watching it. On the other hand, it doesn't feel like a piece of promotional fluff either and is worth checking out.

Before They Cried Wolf: The Filmmakers' Short Films
The two short films created for the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Contest.

  • Tower of Babble - 18:20
    Three stories are told using the exact same dialogue but with different meanings. It's a fascinating setup and really interesting to watch but its replay value is limited. A couple of things to look out for, one of the actresses in the short, Elizabeth Anne Allen, had a recurring role on Buffy and Kevin Spacey is the uncredited Narrator.
  • Manual_Labor - 5:00
    And man panics when his very pregnant wife goes into labor in a large carpark and he can't find remember where he parked his car. Not as good as the previous movie, but as part of the competition they only had seven days to write and direct a five-minute long movie featuring a Chrysler car. So those limitations have to be taken into account when judging the movie.
On a side note, neither short has an audio commentary track, which is strange since practically every other special feature has one.

Cry_Wolf struggled at the box office and I think a lot of that had to do with the marketing. The movie that was advertised was not the movie I watched. The movie I watched wasn't bad, in fact, it was much better than had they simple made a standard Teenage Slasher movie. However, if you are looking for a movie with lots of scares and even more gore, then this in not the film for you. True, there are some very tense moments, but little in the way of real scares or gory scenes and as long as you know what you are getting into you should enjoy the movie.

But will you enjoy it enough to want to buy the Unrated DVD? That's too close to tell. There are some excellent performances, it's well written, and its ultra-low budget doesn't show. Call it a solid rental and many who give it a chance will want to pick it up. I'm certainly glad it's part of my DVD collection.

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Filed under: Video Review, Cry Wolf