In Dallas Jackson’s Thriller, a group of friends in Compton, California, plays a prank on a shy boy named Chauncey, which results in one girl’s accidental death. Chauncey is sent away for the crime, and four years later he apparently returns, clad in a black hoodie, to get revenge.
DIRECTOR: Dallas Jackson
The slasher movie gets a new setting, but that can’t save it.
The scent is familiar—Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer—but Thriller gives us a horror movie set in South Central, with a predominantly Black cast, from a Black director. Horror powerhouse Blumhouse picked up the title and is quietly dropping it on Netflix this weekend, as it did with Owen Egerton’s Mercy Black last month. Blumhouse is no doubt trying to expand its roster of Black horror after the success of Us and Get Out, and Thriller does try to illustrate the horror of living in Compton; the weight of trying to get by and trying to get out, and the physical and emotional warfare kids experience every day. There’s a conversation between one of the kids who was in on the prank and his principal, played by RZA (who scored the film), about how Black men and boys have to anticipate being killed at any moment. Elsewhere, Lisa (Jessica Allain), who was tasked with luring Chauncey into the prank and feels remorse, tells a cop: “The streets talk every day, detective. You just have to listen.”
Unfortunately, Thriller doesn’t do much else to elevate that commentary. We don’t know anything about Chauncey before the prank—we see him give a homeless man a hot dog early on, signaling that he’s got a good heart, but his personality changes drastically and we’re not shown what happened while he was away. We’re given some insight into the friend circle that present-day Chauncey (Jason Woods) is stalking and their personal aspirations and issues, but we don’t get to spend much time with them. Kim (Pepi Sonuga), the sister of the girl Chauncey accidentally killed, “talks” to her dead sister in the mirror a couple times, pitching her voice higher to mimic her. Is this how she’s been dealing with trauma? It’s never explained—a lot of things aren’t—and the stiff acting throughout flattens any nuance or emotional arc.
If Thriller leaned into humor or social commentary—or even explored its surroundings more—it might be a more engaging watch. But it takes itself a little too seriously, even when it’s indulging worn-out tropes (jumpscares!) or setting up blunt-edge twists (the killer could be someone else!). In one scene, a cop tells a frightened Lisa, “You sound like one of those paranoid white girls in a scary movie,” but that’s about as far as Thriller goes into satire of the genre. The film also introduces a now-famous rapper named Unique who returns to Compton and whose sole purpose seems to be having sex with an underage student and then being killed. But maybe this is a reversal of the woman-killed-after-sex horror trope?
At 90 minutes, Thriller could have probably been sanded down to 60 (and cut down half of the characters). It might have worked better as part of a horror anthology; maybe Blumhouse’s Hulu series Into the Dark. A framework is there but it doesn’t feel quite finished. Netflix’s recent original horror offerings have been more miss than hit but this influx of low-to-mid-budget titles might also be part of Netflix’s approach to reaching majority original content. Thriller adds a different point of view to the genre and flips the traditional white-framed slasher narrative. It just doesn’t do much with else with it.
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