January 29th, 2024
MOVIE: DEPARTING SENIORS
STARRING: IGNACIO DIAZ-SILVERIO, YANI GELLMAN, IREON ROACH
DIRECTED BY: CLARE COONEY
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
The high school slasher film peaked with Scream but there has been plenty of room for new blood. Departing Seniors is the feature directorial debut from Chicago’s Clare Cooney, a regular in Michael Glover Smith’s independent films, and a genuine talent to keep an eye on. Her newest work is a horror, sci-fi, and slasher mix, following a pair of high school seniors attempting to stop a murderer with only a week of class left. The problem, however, is that outside of a few well-structured scenes, Departing Seniors is lacking the kind of thrills that a good slasher brings. Maybe it’s a case of senioritis?
The style of Departing Seniors is similar to Stephen King’s The Dead Zone and Happy Death Day 2U. The main character is Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), a Mexican-American, queer, and often picked on by the jocks around school. His best friend is the lively Bianca (Ireon Roach delivering the best performance), smart and funny, and always willing to hear Javier’s struggles. When a pair of bullies push Javier down a flight of stairs, he bumps his head, and when he wakes in the hospital he discovers he has the power to see people’s past, present, and future. This is helpful since there is a killer around school, but now Javier finds himself trying to put pieces together to stop the masked murderer before anyone else is hurt.
As far as independent cinema goes, Departing Seniors is a capable production, with an undeniable sense of direction from Cooney. The screenplay from Jose Nateras isn’t exactly sure what kind of movie he’s putting together. There are bits of humor and the edition of Javier’s supernatural powers could be something, but the mystery of who the killer is, or who is getting attacked is a predictable exercise. Many of the players involved are stereotypes, thinly described characters, while the narrative flips between genre styles. Ideally, Cooney would have kept the focus on Javier and Bianca’s friendship because the best moments are between these two.
It’s not all bad. There is a sweet side of how high school kids can learn to accept one another and how being a bully is the lowest way a person can act. If it were done all over again, Cooney could remove parts and make a straightforward coming-of-age comedy, highlighting two characters we don’t see enough of in Javier and Bianca. The tone often lifts when we return to the attention that Javier is getting from another boy in his class William (Ryan Foreman), but those moments of puppy love romance are interrupted by quick visual flashes of fellow students being hung in the gym locker room so Javier can crack the case in time.
Departing Seniors feels like a movie that was slapped together with duct tape and better scripts. The film’s conclusion is equally the worst part, where the reveal lacks surprise, and the blocking feels sloppy. There is undeniably a lot of talent from Clare Cooney but they would be better suited with a movie that has more narrative focus. If it’s a slasher film go all in. Science fiction? I would be on board. Departing Seniors has no idea what it wants to be. In many ways, it’s like a high school senior.
DEPARTING SENIORS IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY FEBRUARY 2ND, 2024
Written by: Leo Brady