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Film Review: Serena Waits (2018)

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SYNOPSIS:

When an alcohol fueled hook up takes a violent and horrifying turn, three college athletes find themselves haunted by the very girl they left for dead.

REVIEW:

Think of female-led revenge flicks and a few heavy hitters in the horror genre spring to mind, including 70s pioneers Carrie and I Spit On Your Grave; the latter especially, although by many standards not a particularly great movie, helped to establish the genre and paved the way for later efforts like Lady Vengeance, Hard Candy and the Kill Bill movies. Differing from movies such as Straw Dogs, in which the wronged female protagonist relies on a male partner to exact a brutal revenge, the characters in female-driven films are more than capable of extracting their pound of flesh all by themselves.

A recent attempt to make its mark in the genre comes to us from writer director Hunter Johnson in the shape of Serena Waits. Clocking in at a short eighty minutes, this brisk tale starts with a prologue in which a sleazebag of a dance instructor takes a particular interest in one of his female students; “call me Elijah” he schmoozes with a grin as his hands begin to wander. His success in convincing the student to accept some ‘private tuition’ is short lived though, as once alone he is swiftly dispatched by a masked, knife-wielding assailant; one that he appears to recognize once the mask is removed off camera.

Our main story begins post-credits with a group of teens having a house party, wherein we meet Serena (Brialynn Massie). Clearly the worse for wear alcohol-wise, Serena makes a fateful decision to head off home by herself; meeting two apparently helpful strangers in the shape of frat boys Jack (Colton Wheeler) and Miles (David Wesley Marlowe) initially seems to be a blessing. In her inebriated state Serena comes on to Jack pretty hard, which he doesn’t need much encouragement to take as the green light – here’s where things take a dark turn as, once back at the house of the two jocks, Serena quickly passes out. Jack – his mask of being a white knight helping out a stranger in need long since having slipped – does not take kindly to this, and proceeds to rape Serena soon after she comes to.

Things quickly get out of hand and culminate in Jack killing the hapless girl with a baseball bat, while Miles watches on in horror. Just to establish Jack as a true scumbag, we hear him utter the line ‘don’t trust Scott, he’s Mexican!’ to Miles. Scott (Charles Chudabala), their late to the party friend, is however instrumental – if unwilling – in helping to dispose of Serena’s body. By now we’ve seen that Jack’s clearly the Alpha male of this particular troop; Miles is cowed by his outburst, and Scott seems to be in particular awe – and fear – of him.

A quick cut later and we’re in Fall, and it would appear the boys have gotten away with their heinous crime as there are no reports to be seen of Serena’s disappearance. However while Jack is blasé about the whole affair, Miles and Scott are haunted by not only recurring guilt-wracked nightmares, but also something much more tangible and sinister; it seems that someone, or something, is watching them from the shadows, and leaving ever increasing physical signs of impending – and possibly supernatural – revenge.

By this point some will be wondering what the point of the prologue sequence was; and with good reason, as pulling at the logic threads a little means an astute viewer will be able to figure out the direction the story is heading in. The movie as a whole starts to drag around the twenty minute mark; a lot of time is given over to the three jocks cat fighting amongst themselves. However it does pick up quite satisfyingly when Scott’s girlfriend Trini (Lara Jean Mummert) and her two friends decide to have an impromptu party with the boys, especially when the suggestion of a seance is floated….

The performances here are something of a mixed bag, some being a bit amateurish but Wheeler excels as Jack, and really sells his sleazebag of a character. Whilst the story is aiming for a feminist perspective, it doesn’t really wash when the women are clearly taking as much delight in exacting revenge on the men, as Jack did during his fateful attack on Serena. But overall the movie is intriguing – and different to the norm – enough to recommend, and at eighty minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome.

 

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