This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.While the late Wes Craven’s original horror masterwork Scream has always cast a long shadow over the genre with its gleeful snark and the genuine fear it creates, there is something uniquely strange about how the Netflix horror Killer Book Club has made what feels like a largely humorless reimagining of that. Written by Carlos García Miranda and directed by Carlos Alonso Ojea, it centers on a group of eight college friends who all love horror and are soon hunted by a masked killer clown who seems to have an intimate knowledge of a deadly incident that unites them. When she and her friends begin getting sent chapters from this clown of a horror story that mirrors what they did together with the promise that each addition will bring about one of their deaths, they’ll have to piece together who among them is doing it before they’re all gone. The main protagonist of this is aspiring horror writer Ángela (Veki Velilla) who may be the key to saving them all due to her depth of knowledge of these stories. It’s too bad she can’t save Killer Book Club from itself.

To its credit, the film does distinguish itself ever so slightly in what it draws from as its guessing game broadly points to the group’s shared interest in horror literature as opposed to cinema. Early conversations in their classes and the titular club they’ve formed to discuss horror will lightly reference general conventions of the genre as well as the place it holds in the public imagination. The trouble is that, where other recent horror films like birth/rebirth are wickedly sharp reimaginings of classic stories, Killer Book Club seems content to just play around within the confines of what other superior works have already done. No matter how many times the film calls attention to some of the derivative elements of the genre that get recycled or point out the dangers of relying on contrivances, all this feels like lampshading for it to then do all this itself. Where Craven was able to contort the familiar into both comedic and horrific destinations, Killer Book Club tells the exact type of contrived story its characters critique though without any sense of humor to make it feel self-aware in doing so.

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‘Killer Book Club’ Is Mostly Bad Horror Fan Fiction

Image via Netflix

Early on in the film, there is a discussion in a lecture that turns to the nature of drawing quite heavily from past stories. A student defends this as being fan fiction, where you rewrite something already in existence and make it your own. When the chapters of the clown’s story are written, they are published on a site that shares such stories. This type of rather explicit acknowledgment of what the film itself is doing is all well and good as it is also the closest the film comes to more meaningfully referring back to itself. The writing of fan fiction is itself an interesting process as it can carve out new narrative and thematic territory. It just means that if you’re going to essentially rewrite a story, as the one character says, there is a more challenging tightrope you must walk as you have to ensure you don’t fall back on the framework of the existing stories while still drawing from them to build something new. Killer Book Club never does this consistently enough or cleverly enough as everything feels oddly played out the moment it starts. There are flashes of gore but with no boldness underneath it.

A visit to a library to do research into what is happening? Sure, why not? A troubled backstory that gets shown in the first scene before flashing forward into the future? Well of course. A masked killer wielding a signature weapon who could be any of the characters? Go for it, just don’t expect this recycling of familiar tropes of the genre to work just because you wink a bit to the camera. Killer Book Club tries to bring this into the modern era with social media, influencers, and the way they have reshaped our relationships with each other, though it just feels like lip service rather than offering anything incisive. Where a film like this year’s Influencer offered something more than just an aping of an online aesthetic to explore the loneliness and liberation of the Internet, this horror is all blood with no heart. It becomes increasingly hard to care about the identity of the masked murderer or the fate of the characters when it all just feels oddly cold. The entire experience feels as if we are watching a work of hollow imitation that never manages to create anything worth imitating of its own.

The Ending of ‘Killer Book Club’ Could Have Itself Used a Rewrite

A still from Killer Book Club.
Image via Netflix

All this would be forgivable if the conclusion culminated in something more cutting or surprising. Instead, without giving anything away, it again feels exactly like Scream though without any of the more effectively executed terror. Even the one surprise it does pull out feels like a mimicry of those movies. That we get a closing monologue acknowledging how it is not only a rather lackluster ending while still deciding to spell everything out just hammers home how inert it all was. It comes across as a dumping of information that is obligatory rather than thrilling or cathartic. That it then proceeds to insist on carrying on and on well past a proper ending point just leaves you wishing it would finally come to a close already. It does so to cheekily hint at an unearned sequel, but this feels more like a blunt threat than a truly tantalizing tease for more. For all the classic horror stories it gestures at, Killer Book Club never is able to tell a memorable one of its own. No matter how many empty escalations and confrontations with the killer it makes its way through, the real clown show is the film itself.

Rating: C-

The Big Picture

  • Killer Book Club attempts to riff on horror literature instead of cinema, but falls short in creating a memorable story of its own.
  • The film relies on recycled tropes and contrivances of the genre, feeling most like a ripoff of Scream.
  • The ending of Killer Book Club is lackluster and unoriginal, spelling out information in a way that feels obligatory rather than thrilling or satisfying.

Killer Book Club is now on Netflix.

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