Here’s the thing about being a camp counselor, you might just end up in the path of spree killer. As Alyson Hannigan quips in the meta horror You Might Be The Killer, “That happens.” Such is the set up for the clever horror comedy, which stars Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods) as Sam, the nice-as-pie head counselor at a remote summer camp where fun in the sun turns into a bloody nightmare when a murderer starts killing off all the counselors in gruesome fashion. But here’s the twist; Sam…might be the killer.
When we first meet him, he’s in a panic; splattered with blood and looking a place to hide. He’s seen a whole lot of people killed (unaware he might be the one responsible) and he’s on the run to save his skin. Once he’s locked up in a cabin, he calls his friend Chuck (Hannigan), a self-professed horror expert who walks him through the tropes of the genre in order to help him find a way to escape. It’s not too long before she realizes something — the pieces add up, but they add up in a way she wasn’t expecting. See, Sam’s covered in blood, but it’s not his. And he’s got some serious gaps in his memory. And then there’s the matter of the sacrificial machete and the horrifying mask he finds in his bag, which call to him in an irresistible whisper. Yep, he’s the killer.
Inspired by a viral tweet thread by authors Sam Sykes and Chuck Wendig that concisely deconstructed the slasher genre, You Might Be the Killer sounds like it should be a disaster (A tweet movie? What will they think of next?), but it’s not. It’s actually a lot of fun. Writer-director Brett Simmons powers through tropes, appreciating that a modern audience knows exactly what to expect at every turn. Sometimes the film leans into those expectations with grisly results, and sometimes it bucks against them, delivering fun surprises.
The best of these being the core concept — that our hero Sam is in fact a big ol’ murderer. It’s against his will, but that doesn’t matter because the rules are the rules, and the rules state that the killer is defeated by the Final Girl in the end. That means that the more camp counselors he slices and dices, the closer he gets to becoming the cursed mask’s final victim, a clever thread that keeps the tension high, even after you know the guy holding the sacrificial knife is a big sweetheart. And boy, he may be sweet but the kills are anything but. For a low-budget picture like this one, the gore effects are shockingly good and gruesome, including moments that are alternately gasp-worthy and laugh-out-loud funny.
You Might Be the Killer also benefits from smart structuring. Told through a series of flashbacks that unfold as Sam fills in the blanks for Chuck, we witness the murder count grow (written out on screen in a fun tally gag) until the film ultimately catches up with it timeline, leading to a third act where Sam and Chuck actively try to prevent his death, despite the ever-mounting body count. The more Sam remembers, the more we learn, and sometimes we circle back to scenes we’ve seen before but see them in an entirely different way. It’s a sharp script structure and it helps what might have been bland meta horror entry stand above the pack.
The same can be said for the always delightful Kranz and Hannigan, who keep You Might Be the Killer entertaining, even when it veers into that dreaded over-explaining territory that is so rife in meta movies — and yes, You Might Be the Killer definitely suffers from a case of over-explaining. But the performances act like a buoy to keep the film afloat when the dialogue drags. And if you’re a Buffy fan, it sure is fun to see Hannigan back in the role as “the guy in the chair,” offering sage advice to her friend in the field. When she offers to try to find a spell, the BTVS nerd in me yipped and smiled wide. Brittany S. Hall also deserves a shout out in the role of Imani, Sam’s ex, who emerges as one of the film’s most entertaining surprises.
Meta horror is a tricky thing to pull off these days. Scream and New Nightmare came out more than 20 years ago, and since Wes Craven perfected the art of self-aware horror, countless filmmakers (including Craven himself) have tried to recapture the magic to varying results. You Might Be the Killer can’t quite match the greatness of Cabin in the Woods or the heart of The Final Girls, but it’s a solid if slight piece of slasher comedy that’s made with love, for the people who love the genre.