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In theaters April 19, 2019


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I’m not big on teen Horror – and by teen horror, I mean a random number of friends die violently because reasons. Dallas Jackson’s Thriller (2019) manages a careful balance of familiarity in known territory without falling into the usual tropes of hokey camp and derivative violence.

In a story reminiscent of the Jamie Lee Curtis classic, Prom Night (1980), a group of middle school kids lure a special needs classmate into an abandoned house for general bullying. The prank goes terribly wrong and Chauncey (Jason Woods) gets sent up the river – well, to juvie – while his “friends” live their high school lives on the outside, until he’s unexpectedly released.
Lisa (Jessica Allain) prepares for homecoming in Compton, CA. She has a close group of friends: star collector, Kim (Pepi Sonuga), Derrick the DJ (Luke Tennie), a boyfriend in star footballer, Ty (Mitchell Edwards) who use to go with crazy-eyes Gina, (Paige Hurd), and cute couple Tiffany (Chelsea Rendon) and Eddie (Michael Ocampo) who are like two ships passing in the night in different time zones. High school is stressful enough with popularity contests like homecoming court, college acceptances, living up to expectations, without having to deal with drug dealers, petty Bettys, and a serial murderer. As the night of the big dance approaches, Lisa and her friends find themselves being picked off be by one by someone from their past.

Look, if you’re my age (46) you’ve seen the set up: past unintentional tragedy, friends drifting apart get together for one last hurrah before going their separate ways, vengeful killer, huge body count. Scream (1997) brought this back for 90s kids and subsequent movies nearly beat it into the ground.

There is clever (mis)direction and practical effects that make Thriller such an understated success. It feels real, from the clothes to the attitudes, to the language to the terror, which speaks to a tight script and even-handed direction. This is a large ensemble cast, but no one gets lost in the action or exposition. You know all of their fears and foibles, their anger and their Achilles. You may not see the end coming (I’ll admit, I was so wrapped up in the film, I was blind-sighted) but when it hits you can’t help but give it the Snoop Dogg nod of approval.

Part teen fantasy, part uncomfortable reality (the scenes with adult figures like teachers, police, and parents), as well as idolized celebrities, ring both tinny and very true. Cringeworthy because it feels real, not because it hit a sour note.

My only (small) quibble, the strong lead woman needs medication because of past trauma. We really need directors and screenwriters to stop hobbling their women with a medical inability to handle reality, and the constant questions like “did you take your meds” are the worst kind of gaslighting.

Double bonus points to the fact that it wasn’t mentioned but a few times (still a few too many) and it wasn’t a central plot point which means it could have been left out, right?

Thriller is a movie for the urban crowd, those of us that went to City schools, had fast friends, knew crazy mamas and when to cross the street because you knew a badass mo-fo by their swagger, not their sidepiece. Not everyone will “get” this movie, or understand the context, but that’s okay because it’s not for them. Thriller is an urban horror movie for an urban crowd but tell your friends. This is a great group watch.

Now let’s see more of this.

Thriller (2019) is currently unrated, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say PG-13 for swears, falls with sudden stops, gun threats, gun violence, promiscuous behavior, and stabbing. It is currently streaming on Nexflix.

Thriller is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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