The high school horror film “Thriller” bounces back and forth between multiple genres, without nailing any of them. The movie’s attempts at teen melodrama are run-of-the-mill, while its slasher scenes are tedious. Even the depiction of life in the working-class community of Compton lacks the righteous fury it needs to rise to the level of “pointed.”
The story opens with a group of kids bullying their stammering neighbor Chauncey, who panics and lashes out, with tragic results. Jump ahead a few years, and a hooded, hulking Chauncey (Jason Woods) is returning home, just as his former tormenters are making college plans and prepping for the big school dance. Soon, those teens start turning up dead, in grim scenes set to a John Carpenter-inspired score by RZA.
The Compton setting gives the picture a different look, which matters — but only to a degree. Director Dallas Jackson (who also co-produced and co-wrote) takes stock characters from high school exploitation movies and recasts them with African American and Latinx actors, tying “Thriller” to a specific milieu — where the killer’s victims are anxious about whether they’ll have enough money for school, or will survive the everyday violence of the neighborhood.
Yet while some of the film’s smaller details are unique — like one of the characters being a popular local rapper named “Unique” (Chauncey Jenkins) — the overarching plot never pops. “Thriller” falls back on the old horror formula of bland, often mean-spirited young folks, getting slaughtered one by one … and without near enough flair.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on Netflix