The inconsistent writing in “Departing Seniors” can’t completely kill the vibe of this slasher’s great concept and fresh perspective.
Horror has seen plenty of changes, but the long-lasting tropes have continued to make it so popular. Whether it is movies like 1957’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf or the countless stories about teens trapped in haunted houses; the younger generation has always been an important part of the genre.
The introduction of the teen slasher in the 1980s took things to the next level. Becoming horror’s most popular subgenre overnight, it spawned several classic films. Though it does not have the same popularity as its heyday, it has continued to be one of the most fun forms of horror to watch.
Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio, Primo) is a queer high school student who does not fit in with his classmates. After an act of bullying puts him in the hospital, he begins to have terrifying visions. When people around him begin to mysteriously die, he must decide how to save his school — or if he even wants to.
It is the classic set-up that has been loved for decades.
Javier is neither white nor a prudish virgin but is still the target of bullying. He also ends up being the only one who can help everyone. In other words, he is the perfect teen slasher hero.
Departing Seniors is filled with these types of familiar situations and characters. The film is given a fresh 21st-century perspective that makes it stand out, however.
Filled with BIPOC characters and themes, Departing Seniors presents well-known situations without ever feeling derivative.
The most important part of any teen slasher is the characters. The audience needs to feel for some of them and hate others, which leads to a feeling of being invested overall. Ireon Roach (2021’s Candyman) is the highlight as Bianca. Quick with a comeback and always ready to back Javier up, she provides some of the best moments of the movie. The supporting cast also does a great job.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Javier.
While there is nothing wrong with Diaz-Silverio’s performance, the writing does him little favors. He is often a jerk who has no problem making fun of others. While it can be explained away due to the harassment he is receiving, what can not be ignored is a scene in which he outs another queer student in front of that person’s closest friends.
It is an insensitive moment that all but makes it impossible to ever root for him. (In his defense, Javier later makes an offhand comment about how he should not have revealed the secret, but it is a little too late.)
The writing is a constant problem for Departing Seniors.
The murders are supposed to be set up to look like suicides, but the killings involve baseball bats and severe head trauma before the bodies are arranged. The victims obviously did not kill themselves, but their injuries are never mentioned.
Even stranger is the climax.
The killer’s motivations may be standard stuff, but like the best villains, there is a twisted logic that can make sense. Having them defeated by one of the few white protagonists is arguably the most deflating moment.
That being said, there is a lot more good than bad. The heavier tone is perfect for the story being told. There is a gravity to Departing Seniors that is not normally seen. It also takes on serious issues without taking away from their importance.
There are some missteps along the way, but this surprising slasher is definitely worth watching.