Teenagers are awful — that’s an objective truth. Throw in a hefty dose of economic privilege, and you’ve got the recipe for some real chickenshit humans. Exhibit A: over the course of several parties, a group of teens in Georgia habitually tortured their “friend,” forcing him to drink excessive amounts of alcohol and take mushrooms, then tying him to a chair, urinating on him, spray-painting him, and Snapchatting evidence of the event to their friends. That these teens were from “prominent local families” shouldn’t surprise anyone. Blame social media, blame undeveloped frontal cortices — the stereotype of the teenage monster has been made study of time and again, in works as disparate as Carrie to Cruel Intentions to Euphoria.
You’re Killing Me, the latest entry into this canon of sorts, tells its tale in something of a triptych. The film begins as a straightforward thriller. Eden Murphy (McKaley Miller) is a scholarship student at Torrington Prep. One of her classmates went missing a week ago, but much of the student body has promptly forgotten about Melissa Brown (Kalli Tehranae) because class king Barrett Schroder (Brice Anthony Heller) — who goes by his last name, naturally — is throwing his annual “Heaven and Hell” party. Eden, who has been waitlisted to her dream college, decides to crash the party in hopes of convincing Schroder to get his father (Dermot Mulroney), a congressman, to write her a recommendation letter. So Eden dons her angel wings (literally — the metaphor isn’t subtle) and gets to work. At the party, Eden’s friend Zara (Keyara Milliner) gets shitcanned, and Eden takes her to an upstairs bedroom to sleep it off. When checking in on Zara in bed, Eden discovers a phone belonging to classmate Gooch (yes, really) and a video that links Schroder to Melissa’s disappearance.
From here, the film morphs into a sort of trapped-in-the-house horror flick — the kind of home invasion inverse that has been in vogue as of late with films like Don’t Breathe and Hide and Seek — when Schroder and co. realize Eden has the phone and has locked herself in the bedroom. As tension rises and Schroder becomes more desperate, it becomes clear that this group of privileged kids will do just about anything to preserve their pristine images, including murder. When Congressman Schroder and his wife (Anne Heche, in one of her final film roles) show up, we learn precisely where Schroder’s sense of entitlement was nurtured. Eventually, the film morphs once again, this time into a revenge tale, as Eden desperately tries to stay alive and get justice for Melissa (angel wings affixed the whole time, of course).
In execution, however, You’re Killing Me is far less complicated than that synopsis would make it seem, and the script from writers Walker Hare and Brad Martocello doesn’t offer anything new or noteworthy when it comes to teenage horror. To say that the film is predictable is putting it gently — every narrative beat is first telegraphed and then dutifully checked off the list. The young cast is clearly game, chewing scenery in every scene — Heller clearly believes he has perfected the sinister smile — while the adults just barely rise to the level of phoning it in. But whatever fun there is to find here is undermined by the fact that the writers are clearly trying to offer some earnest criticism of the upper crust, that favorite target of horror’s past decade. Fair enough, but You’re Killing Me has nothing new to say, or much of anything at all — there’s just the sketched suggestion of critique that the filmmakers leave for viewers to fill in with the rhetoric of so many other works. And then there’s the endless spoon-fed metaphor, which is really just the shit-covered cherry on top. Ultimately, the film confirms that, yes, teenagers are awful — the noble poor kids are the exception to that rule here, of course — but it’s all approached in such a tedious way viewers are more likely to find themselves rooting for the Richie Rich, if only so that something surprising might interrupt the prevailing inertia.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 15.