**This review contains spoilers**
Troubled teen Owen Matthews (Julian Morris) receives one last shot at redemption, when his powerful father, Charles (Gary Cole) pulls some strings for Owen’s acceptance into Westlake Preparatory Academy, an exclusive and upscale private school for teenagers.
Upon his arrival, Owen is invited into a circle of friends by Dodger (Lindy Booth) and his new roommate Tom (Jared Padalecki). During a night in the campus’ chapel, Owen meets Mercedes (Sandra McCoy), her boyfriend, Lewis (Paul James), Randall (Jesse Janzen), Regina (Kristy Wu), and Graham (Ethan Cohn). Owen is thrust into the group’s weekly lying game of sheeps VS The Wolf. The object of the game is to sniff out the liar, and each participant is required to put some money into the pot. The Wolf is the liar, and The Wolf receives a hidden marking for his identity. The sheeps have to pick out the liar, and a false accusation automatically eliminates said participant from the game. The first sheep to point out the liar (The Wolf) wins all the money. If The Wolf survives, The Wolf wins all the money.
After a while, Dodger decides to spice things up by bringing The Wolf to life, using a real life local tragedy as the inspiration for his backstory. Together, Dodger and Owen create The Wolf’s attire, his weapon (a knife), and The Wolf’s mission: After murdering a local girl named Becky, The Wolf stalks Westlake for his next victim. Tom, Mercedes, Lewis, Randall, Graham, and Regina agree to play along, and each member of the group creates a storyline for the deaths of their characters in The Wolf’s killing spree.
Owen sends out a batch of fake emails to the entire school about The Wolf’s plan, and the group has some fun trying to uncover the identity of the killer at first, but the game takes a turn for the worst after a series of bizarre incidents, including Randall‘s mysterious disappearance. Unable to dismiss his past and troubled track record, Owen is a prime suspect for a series of real close-calls involving the game, including bringing The Wolf’s knife into a classroom, and Owen being solely responsible for a police officer’s last second decision to aim a gun at Mercedes disguised as The Wolf.
Along the way, Owen butts heads with one of his teachers, Mr. Walker (Jon Bon Jovi), who targets Owen as a fall guy for The Wolf conspiracy. Owen is facing expulsion for his involvement in the game, but Mr. Walker’s connections to a deceased Becky leads Owen to one troubling question: Is Mr. Walker The Wolf?
Cry Wolf features your usual set of characters in a teen style slasher film. Dodger is the seemingly innocent sweetheart, Tom is the cocky pretty boy/jerk, Randall is the “bad boy,” Mercedes is the attractive and clueless airhead, and Lewis is the dopey boyfriend. Owen? He’s the new kid, who tries too hard to fit in, and in the end, his never ending quest for acceptance costs him, big time.
I’ll give the nod to Lindy Booth for the best performance, and although it doesn’t last long, Booth is able to showcase a believable devious side to Dodger character. Morris is okay in the leading role, but his character has a few head shaking moments as this gullible doofus, and without Booth to prop him up, I can’t picture Morris maintaining serviceable status as the leading man. Padalecki and Wu are good for a few cheap laughs, and Janzen doesn’t receive a significant amount of screen time. Jon Bon Jovi is solid as Mr. Walker. Throughout the movie, Bon Jovi is convincing as a walking quandary, because you’re never sure of Mr. Walker’s true intentions and the motivations for his allegiances.
Cry Wolf constantly toys with the audience during the chaos to find The Wolf. Is The Wolf real or not? It’s the one question I had trouble answering during my first viewing of Cry Wolf. For me, Cry Wolf didn’t disappoint during the double swerve at the end.
Okay, so we’re in the final moments of the movie, and after the parking lot incident with Mercedes disguised as The Wolf, Owen is sick and tired of playing games. With no doubts to hold him back, Owen believes the real Wolf will strike on Halloween night during a full moon. In an attempt to expose The Wolf, Owen invites everyone involved to the chapel on Halloween night to finish the game. Here, Owen points the finger at Dodger for being the culprit behind it all, but a heartbroken and disappointed Dodger dismisses Owen’s claim. Owen struggles to think of his next move…until the remaining members of the group discover Randall’s dead body in a confession booth. Meanwhile, Mercedes is attacked by The Wolf in the girl’s dormitory on campus.
Searching for help, Owen rushes to Mr. Walker’s office after following Dodger’s instructions. Owen goes to Mr. Walker’s desk drawer to find his car keys, because Tom left with Regina in his car, and the campus is basically deserted. Instead of car keys, Owen finds a gun. This is the same gun that was used to kill Becky, and Owen suspects Mr. Walker as the killer, because after Dodger’s confession, Owen knows Mr. Walker shared an inappropriate student/teacher relationship with Becky before her death. Believing in Mr. Walker’s “crime of passion” motives, Owen refuses to relinquish the gun during a struggle with Mr. Walker, and Owen accidentally shoots Mr. Walker in the chest, killing him.
During the finale, it’s revealed the VAST majority of the group pulled a secret prank behind Owen’s back. Covered in fake blood, Randall was playing dead in the confession booth long enough for Owen to see him. Disguised as The Wolf, Graham scared an oblivious Mercedes in the shower. And Dodger faked her death outside of Mr. Walker’s office after The Wolf (disguised as Tom) “murdered” her. Mercedes and Lewis were the only ones, who didn’t know about the hoax.
The twist? Dodger deceived Owen into murdering Mr. Walker, because Dodger also shared an inappropriate relationship with Mr. Walker. Out of jealously, Dodger is the one, who murdered Becky in the woods, and Dodger planted the gun in Mr. Walker’s desk, and she purposely revealed the location, because she knew Owen would use the gun against Mr. Walker in self defense.
Suspension of disbelief is crucial for buying into this twist. Some will say it’s too far fetched to believe in all the steps for Dodger’s master plan. And using hindsight, there’s one scene with some obvious foreshadowing. Others might go with a different choice, but for me, it’s the scene with Dodger wearing the Red Riding Hood costume. Big hint. Still, I LOVE this twist. During the flashback reel at the end, you can see how Dodger easily manipulated and tortured Owen. Dodger saw an easy target for a sucker in Owen, Dodger used Owen’s infatuations against him, and she toyed with Owen until the very end.
Cry Wolf opens with the scene featuring Becky’s death in the woods. Of course, they don’t show Dodger as the killer. But at the end, you can see how Dodger stalked Becky in the woods at night, and when the time was right, Dodger murdered Becky in cold blood with the gun. Again, I know others might have trouble buying into it, but Dodger was the ideal choice for a shocking reveal. Booth took control of the Dodger, as this innocent young girl, who’s conflicted about her inappropriate relationship with a teacher. Seriously, Dodger is the sweet hometown girl with a mother, who teaches sixth graders, and her father works as a janitor at Westlake. WHO would suspect her as a murderer? Dodger’s nonchalant and cold response to Owen openly accusing her of orchestrating the murder of Mr. Walker? “Who would believe you?”
Is Cry Wolf perfect? No. No it’s not. As I said before, you’ll see a set of generic slasher characters here, and Cry Wolf’s replay technique annoys me to no end. Throughout the movie, Cry Wolf constantly replays footage for the murders involving certain participants in the game. You’ll see the footage for the first time after the group comes to a final decision on how everyone involved is supposed to die. As the murders happen, Cry Wolf replays the same footage in the brainstorming scene over and over again. Yeah, I get the point of splicing the “This is how it happens” footage with real time events, because this technique is supposed to pull a shocking reaction out of the audience. After all, you’re seeing the nightmare come to life before your very eyes. Problem is, the footage is not shocking anymore after the first time, and after a while, the replays feel unnecessary, lazy, random, and annoying.
Still, Cry Wolf keeps you guessing until the very end with a back and forth game of whodunit, and the constant teasing is more than capable of keeping you on edge, as Cry Wolf bounces between harmless hoax territory and the possibility of a real killer stalking everyone.
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