REVIEW – Thriller: Teen-led​ Slasher Explores the Plight of Black Boys Through a Horror Lens

Riffing off the success of Get Out, Blumhouse have once again delved into modern race issues with teen slasher movie Thriller, which drops on Netflix this Sunday. A directorial debut from Dallas Jackson, who wrote the film along with Ken Rance, Thriller reimagines the slasher movie from a modern black perspective, envisioning the boogeyman as just another young black man in a hoodie.

It’s quite common horror knowledge that John Carpenter referenced Michael Myers in the Halloween script as ‘The Shape’, lurking in the shadows with the mask pulled over his head his silhouette was pretty nondescript; it could be anybody. This is the mindset with which we approach the character of Chauncey Page. We first meet Chauncey (Jason Woods) as a child, involved in a prank gone horribly awry that leads to his incarceration. Flash forward four years and a hardened Chauncey is released from prison, back into his South Central LA neighbourhood and hell-bent on revenge.

Compton High School, however, is in the lead up to their homecoming dance, a rite of passage for many American high-schoolers and a reflective and important time in which life-changing decisions could be made. Lisa (Jessica Allain) for one is waiting to hear back from her college applications, a daunting cost that she doesn’t believe she can afford without a scholarship, despite her middle-class nuclear family. Andre (Tequan Richmond) is questioned by his peers about his ‘tough guy’ front that he believes is necessary to avoid gang-related violence on his streets, and Derrick (Luke Tennie) already believes his fate is sealed; as a young black man he knows that at this age the most likely cause of death is murder.

It’s an apt thought to have just as Chauncey Page begins to stalk the streets, seeking out the other kids who were there on the night of his arrest with plans to murder them. When he first reappears at his home, and for many of the first kills, Chauncey is seen only with his hood pulled up, all in black, face hidden. It harks back to so many sensationalised news stories, in both the US and UK, that unfairly deemed black men in hoodies a ‘threat’. There’s definitely an avenue to explore wherein Chauncey is simply misunderstood, but Dallas Jackson plays upon these irrational fears concocted by the media. A synth Halloween-esque theme scored by RZA follows Chauncey’s quest for revenge, trying to elevate him to a status of iconography.

Jackson’s love and clear knowledge of slasher icons and motifs is abundant, there are moments of Friday the 13th, Prom Night and the earlier mentioned Michael Myers weaved throughout the story – but what the film lacks that the aforementioned do not is fun kills. Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through the throat is certainly an unforgettable horror moment, but not long after watching Thriller it’s hard to recall the ways in which the victims perished. Whether this is an intentional serious comment on the murder rates amongst black youth that doesn’t seek to stylise the issue is a tad unclear, but the films overall political stance shines through.

None of these characters want to become just another black statistic, not another faceless percentage, victim, or part of a diversity quota. The hooded black figure is a representation of these concerns, a silent stalker hot on the tails of these urban teens who will survive by any means necessary.

Thriller arrives on Netflix on Sunday 14th April

by Chloe Leeson

Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here

 

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