'Into The Dark' Goes Back To The Slasher Basics With "School Spirit"

(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)After scoring exemplary marks with last month's Culture Shock "episode," Into The Dark returns to its less memorable form in School Spirit. Mike Gan's tribute to I Know What You Did Last Summer era high school slashers may earn a passing grade by certain standards, but brings nothing new to an outdated subgenre conversation. Reformat existing horror architectures all you want, but there's not much "spirit" within rudimentary "101 Level" storytelling horror fans have studied ad nauseam. A little Breakfast Club, a lotta Scream, but Blumhouse's deadly detention sentence capitalizes not on a pirate killer far less interesting than a sinister Act III suggests.Annie Q. stars as Helbrook High's little-miss-perfect Erica. Straight A's, Ivy League applications, and yet she finds herself attending Saturday detention alongside delinquent classmates. Why? Lizzy (Jessi Case) and Vic (Julian Works) pester Erica but it's to no avail. Brett (Corey Fogelmanis) doesn't care what Erica did, he's just happy to spend time with the student body celebrity. Under Vice Principal Armstrong's (Hugo Armstrong) rule, chores are instructed until incarceration ends – but that's before a costumed "Admiral," Helbrook's mascot, starts chasing the locked-in "bad kids" with intent to shave class numbers by a few bodies.As far as innovation goes, School Spirit believes repurposing its titular pep rally term as a suggestion of demonic haunts is top-shelf writing. Children are hunted by an urban legend "school spirit," aka a deceased teacher who punishes naughty children within Helbrook's walls. It's a flimsy backstory for a killer who's not undead, making for a less-than-puzzling mystery as Erica attempts to uncover who's trying to silence her detention crew. Mr. Armstrong flies off the handle like a hot-headed headmaster stereotype, kids impair their judgment with narcotics, all while audiences who's under the swashbuckler's mask (not hard). One finale shock may be in store, but creative significance strikes too weak to elevate otherwise unexcitable schoolyard nightmarishness.Gan's direction favors static shots and empty framing, staying away from camera movement or emphasis on closeups. Cinematography lingers on symmetrical frames and clean digital photography that's nothing more than B-roll of high school hallway explorations. One might say my Scream comparison above is less about Wes Craven's film and more to the ongoing television series, as Gan's vision is by-the-books formulaic. Information reiterated through obviousness over subtlety, spelling things out with focused giveaway glimpses instead of allowing edits and twisted angular perspectives to invade simplistic examples of footage most unspectacular. Questionably dim lighting and all.School Spirit defines characters with props and anger instead of established backstories. How else would we know Jason (Jordan Austin Smith) is Helbrook's star basketball stud if he's not holding a basketball in every scene, despite constantly talking about basketball practice and always wearing his gameday jersey? What are Erica's newfound friends doing in detention? Lizzy's punk pothead is granted personality when it's revealed she lashes out to receive weekend detention as a means of avoiding her alcoholic parent, but exists as the only player given richer presence. Even including "The Admiral," a mute murderer who lacks villainous staying power beyond rubbery facial details and an ill-fitting costume. Lambs to the slaughter forced to walk the plank without more than "why not" for a provided reason.Gore can save slasher films when wafer-thin plots crack, but School Spirit slays more victims off camera than in view. One classroom paper-cutter death and another "cut down to size" gag work with goopy prosthetics, only to heighten disappointment when other unseen murders are confirmed by a streaky blood trail across marble floors. Proverbial "goods" are withheld, possibly to emphasize Gan's final fiveish minutes, at a detriment to what some would expect from fun-filled slashers shredding not-so-innocent underage organs. Less can sometimes be more, yet in Gan's case, it's another reminder that Into The Dark sometimes feels rushed through conception and never fully committed. A streamable product Hulu knows subscribers will watch, shorthanded without any repercussions.Into The Dark goes "back to basics" with School Spirit, an incomplete assignment that attempts to get by on recycling someone else's work. It's not outright bad, nor unwatchable, but "harmless" or "unenthusiastic." Two damning words when referencing one of horror's most gruesomely signature subgenres, as this teacher's pet tries to get by on sucking up to the classics. As proven by theories of gravitational science, what goes up must come down. After Culture Shock, Into The Dark plunges back towards "reality" after an unexpected July 4th high./Film Review: 5.5 out of 10