Sunday, 25 June 2017

Bad Kids of Crestview Academy: EIFF Review

Hello and welcome to this year's EIFF coverage! For the first of many reviews and interviews that'll be featured here, I checked out Bad Kids of Crestview Academy - a comedy about detention, power, and murder!

Bad Kids of Crestview Academy plays out along the same lines of the Breakfast Club – if the Breakfast Club was a dumb, unfunny, low-budget attempt at making a cult classic. Ben Browder’s sequel to Bad Kids Go to Hell plays almost every bad trick in the book: from excessive use of awful CG effects, to predictable narratives, and cringe-inducing stereotypes. It’s a shame, because within this dustbin on a movie, there are promising elements and sequences that suggest we could’ve seen something better.

Characters we don't care about...
The plot, for want of a better word, focuses on Siouxie Hess (Sammi Hanratty) – a less-well-off girl at the prestigious WASP-factory Crestview Academy. We open on her, covered in blood, wielding a flamethrower, and about to take on a SWAT team. In typical comic-book style, we’re then transported 8 hours back in time, to witness how these events unfolded.

Somewhat unfortunately, this involves a Saturday detention slot with a bunch of self-consciously ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ kids; who essentially resemble the kind of thing a pop-punk fan in 2006 may have thought either ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’; killing each other for dubious reasons. Is it revenge? Is it for career advancement? Who’s even doing the killing? These are mysteries we never really care about; and which have heavily predictable conclusions.

I think my main problem with Bad Kids is the total absence of style. Usually, with graphic novel adaptations – even awful ones like Sin City 2 – there’s a distinct visual key and colour palette to retain audience interest. But here, we’re given nothing but beige hallways, red lighting, and standard school classrooms. A complete absence of set design in other words. The quality of the footage here is so low that it honestly feels like a student film – which is a pity, given that even with a low budget; a one-location movie can still look beautiful.  

A confrontation we don't care about...
Graphic panel-type illustrations, which appear on the screen and animate motion-comic style are a clear attempt at establishing a visual identity – but these things have been done to death already. The most surprising thing that comes out of these is just how well done they are – compared to the poor design of the rest of the film, these segments feel professional enough to be in much bigger movies; standing in stark contrast to the cheap vibes of the rest of the ordeal.

I wonder why CGI was used so excessively here. Bad Kids clearly does not have the budget to be able to afford half-decent computerised effects, so why stuff the film full of cheap ones? It defies imagination. People on fire look like MagicEye in-webcam features; splattered brains look like pieces of sponge covered in tomato ketchup; and weapon fire looks like an iPhone special effect. I’m aware that this sort of sheen isn’t the substance or the basis of the film; but it’s impossible to enjoy something that has been crafted so poorly.

The problems don’t stop here either. The characters are irredeemable: self-obsessed stereotypes, they give off enough toxic vibes to keep even the most sympathetic viewers away from caring about their fates. There’s ‘the gay one who doesn’t shut up about being gay’ (Matthew Frias); ‘the extra-edgy sullen emo outsider one’ (Sammi Hanratty); ‘the uber-rich evil posh perv’ (Colby Arps); ‘the dumb Christian cheerleader’ (Sophia Taylor Ali); and ‘the cute Japanese cat one’ (Erika Daly). Their deaths are so flippant and inconsequential (it doesn’t help that the other characters don’t express that they care about this) that they leave no impact; becoming empty and meaningless.

A death we don't care about...
Add this to the already ridiculous story described earlier (which sounds like the sorta thing a 14 year old would find mildly cool), and you have a totally unengaging, bland, and uninvolving slice of boredom. Not only all this, but it’s just not funny. About 2/3 of the way through the film, there’s a string of genuine laughs resulting from the utter stupidity of the cheerleader character; but apart from that, the screening was dead silent for a reason. It’s clear, in many cases, that jokes are being attempted. But it just never hits a point where they actually pay off.

Indeed, I feel the root of all these issues could potentially be the source itself: if the dialogue is directly lifted then it’s not the least bit witty, clever, or cool. But that still leaves the question of why anybody would adapt such trash. One reason, perhaps the most likely, is that this smacks of ‘cult movie’. The whole storyline suits itself to a specific fanbase and midnight screenings. The problem here is one that most have known for a long time: you can’t fake your way to cult stardom. You can’t make a movie specifically to get big on the cult circuit, and get away with it. It simply looks too staged. In fact, in its desperate attempt to be ‘edgy’ and pull in the teen crowds, the full extent of how cliched this all is really becomes apparent. If it was uniquely bad then, perhaps, it could be enjoyable – but this really doesn’t have the staying power of, say, The Book of Henry to shock its audience into viewing it ironically.

Some exposition we don't care about...
So, at the end of the day, I have to wonder what the viewers of Bad Kids are left with. You won’t laugh. You won’t scream. You won’t be entertained. It’s a predictable, unattractive cliched mess – furnished with After Effects CGI, and poor style. I’d call it a cash-grab; but I doubt anyone’s gonna be turning up to this one.

Still not convinced to stay away? There’s a character called ‘The Naked Wizard’ who is neither naked, nor a wizard. 

Bad Kids of Crestview Academy gets 2 stars!

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