‘Into the Dark: School Spirit’ has pep, but it lacks originality

Into the Dark: School Spirit is like a rickety wagon, wobbling and creaking as it builds up steam and eventually settling into a smooth ride—until all four wheels fall off. Basically, it’s a par-for-the-course entry in the Hulu horror anthology series. I’ve long since abandoned the notion that Into the Dark will deliver a truly great entry. There have been plenty of entertaining stories, but nothing memorable. Eventually, you will get tired of waiting for Into the Dark to deliver the goods and move on. Maybe—hopefully—you already have. I keep coming back out of stubbornness. Much like the characters in School Spirit, I deserve what I get.

Into the Dark: School Spirit

 

RELEASE DATE: 8/2/2019
DIRECTOR: Mike Gan
STREAMING: Hulu
A group of teenagers get more than they bargained for during Saturday detention.

Eschewing the typical holiday theme of each installment, School Spirit takes place during the first week of the school year. The start of school is always interesting, as the summer hangover meets the rigidity of syllabi. But those “new year, new you” thoughts get quickly smothered by familiar routines—which is basically how I feel about each new Into the Dark. The latest predictable story revolves around a breakfast club of nondescript characters during the first Saturday detention of the year. They’re the kind of kids who dabble in rebellion, but you get the sense they’ll get their acts together.

hulu into the dark school spirit release date Hulu/YouTube

The only characters worth remembering are the quiet, shell-shocked Brett (Corey Fogelmanis) and academic standout Erica (Annie Q). Once the character introductions are done, the alcoholic vice principal leaves the kids alone, and the bloodshed begins. Left to their own devices, the teenagers do what teenagers do: They push boundaries. It may be the first Saturday detention of the year, but these kids are in midseason form. Alcohol, weed, and the possibility of sex linger. The script, credited to Patrick Casey, Josh Miller, and Mike Gan (who also directs), dutifully sets about separating the students and punishing them for their sins.

Doing the dirty work is a rotting body dressed as the school’s mascot, an Admiral. This school spirit (get it?) is allegedly an old teacher who died because of a student prank gone wrong. Now the spirit comes back every year to claim a few students, as implied by a bulletin board full of Missing Persons flyers. At least the first half of School Spirit works. The actors play off each other well, even if the characters are forgettable. The kills are surprisingly bloody, and Gan draws some suspense out of largely familiar situations. It’s fun, but the story’s complete lack of originality eventually comes to bear, and the film can’t survive it.

hulu into the dark school spirit cast Hulu/YouTube

School Spirit covers much of the same thematic ground as previous Into the Darks, but the movie it most reminds me of is I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. Neither one is good, but as an easy mark for slashers, I was still amused. You’ll know from that comparison whether School Spirit is for you. Speaking of bad slashers of yesteryear: I’d be remiss if I didn’t make the connection between School Spirit and Scream 4. (Consider this a vague spoiler warning for the third acts of both.) Both movies spend most of their runtimes recycling cliches before delivering dopey denouements. It makes me wish School Spirit had embraced its inherent silliness from the jump.

Between its thin story and thinner characters, Into the Dark: School Spirit will likely fade from memory quickly. Maybe there’s a stronger version of this story waiting to realize its potential with stronger direction and mentorship. But by the end, it’s clear that School Spirit is a C student content to settle for mediocrity. The same goes for Into the Dark as a whole.

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Eddie Strait

Eddie Strait

Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.