Review: ‘Thriller’: A horror film that centers inner-city youth for a change
Jessica Allain in "Thriller." | Meridian Entertainment

In a surprise release, Blumhouse Productions debuted its latest film Thriller on the streaming giant Netflix on April 14. Although there is no shortage of slasher flicks, the subgenre of horror movies that involve a violent psychopath stalking and murdering a group of people, Thriller serves as a fresher take on this type of film.

Usually, entries in the subgenre are set in some suburb, where the focus is often on upper-middle-class predominantly white youth. Thriller decides to center working-class inner-city high schoolers of Compton, California instead. With this shift, the movie breathes a bit of fresh air into the tried and true tropes of horror, while adding a flavor of the real world traumas and struggles working-class teenagers have to contend with—horrors that go beyond fictional masked serial killers.

Produced by Blumhouse Productions and Meridian Entertainment, the film is directed by Dallas Jackson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ken Rance. It stars Tequan Richmond (Boomerang), Jessica Allain (The Honor List), Chelsea Rendon (Murder in the Woods), Mitchell Edwards (The First Purge), Pepi Sonuga (Leprechaun Returns), Maestro Harrell (The Wire), Robert Fitzgerald Diggs (better known as RZA of the famous hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan), and Mykelti Williamson (The Purge: Election Year).

The film focuses on a group of high school seniors in Compton who harbor a dark secret. Years ago, in a prank gone terribly wrong that resulted in the death of a classmate, the group was responsible for the imprisonment of their peer, Chauncey Page. Four years later, as the clique is attending their last homecoming dance and preparing to head into the world after high school, they find themselves in fear for their lives. it appears that Chauncey is out of prison, and he may be set on revenge by killing them off one by one.

The film has a number of positive aspects that stand out. The aesthetic of the movie has a 1980s B-movie horror vibe to it. Some may say that means “low-budget,” but I contend that this look was deliberate in that many of the slasher movies that have become cult or mainstream classics often came from that decade. The film also pays homage to some of these movies, such as Prom Night, The Prowler, and My Bloody Valentine, in various ways, while putting its own spin on some of the iconic moments associated with those pictures. This will be a treat for fans of the genre who want to test their horror trivia as they watch.

Something that goes against the grain of what we’ve seen in slasher flicks of the past is that the characters aren’t simply one-dimensional archetypes waiting to be killed off. The story does well in giving each of the young people, all young people of color, an interesting background and story to deal with that go beyond the immediate danger of a stalker. Not only are they young people dealing with the trauma of holding their dark secret, but they are also young people thinking about their future, and how most of them feel like the odds are stacked against them because of their class and race.

The film does well in highlighting each of the main characters’ problems, such as being able to afford college and avoiding the gang and gun violence in their community. There are scenes in which, while discussing the possibility of a shadowy figure trying to kill them, the young people lament over how it seems like the world is against them being successful or surviving. This is different from what viewers may be used to from other slasher films, where the characters’ only concern, outside of avoiding a fictional murderer, is who is dating whom.

This layered character approach that the film takes speaks to the larger theme within the story. Although there is a possible killer after the group, being that they are inner-city youth of color, this is not their first brush with danger or hardship. Slasher flicks of the past have often taken place in the predominantly white suburbs. Placing a serial killer in the midst of the suburbs shattered the idea of security and safe haven that is often associated with upper-middle-class life. The fear of death in that way is abnormal for “those people” supposedly. Thriller subverts this trope by placing a killer in a place where the fear of early and unnatural death isn’t exactly an anomaly, but an embedded way of life. This makes for interesting dialogue between characters as we see the way they deal with their fear and trauma.

There are a number of scenes where, even before the body count rises, characters are already speaking to real-life horror. There’s a moment where a character even explains the dangers of being young and Black in the United States. They do this by highlighting the fact that Black people are more likely to be shot by the police than their white peers, and that Black men aged 15–34 are between nine and sixteen times more likely to be killed by police than any other group.

Yet, even with the heavy subject matter the movie tackles, there are fun elements as well. The moments of humor help to bring levity to the script, along with the energetic soundtrack. The movie has some effective jump scares that remind you this is a horror film, after all. The kill count isn’t very high for those looking for an all-out bloodfest, but there’s plenty of murder throughout.

The one drawback of the film is that the plot twist, as many of these types of films tend to have, may seem predictable for viewers. I figured it out about halfway through, but the journey to get to that reveal was still an enjoyable ride.

Fans of this horror subgenre who are looking for something a little different, and a bit deeper, while still maintaining the slasher aesthetic, will enjoy Thriller. At one hour and twenty-six minutes, the movie isn’t too long or drawn out, and even makes some valid points about society along the way.

Thriller is now streaming on Netflix. The trailer can be seen here.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.