Are you craving a slasher flick that shakes up the typical horror movie formula? Look no further than Departing Seniors, a cheeky queer teen whodunit making bloody waves on the indie circuit. This fiery feature debut from up-and-coming director Clare Cooney takes the best parts of 90s satires like Scream and sprinkles in supernatural spices reminiscent of The Dead Zone. Released on February 2nd, 2024, the script comes courtesy of Jose Nateras, known for his work on the 2022 coming-of-age dramedy Good Kids Gone Bad.
At its core, Departing Seniors is a genre-bending tale about proudly gay Mexican-American student Javier, who acquires psychic visions after a near-fatal bullying incident. With graduation closing in, a masked killer begins stalking the halls of his high school, racking up a body count faster than you can say “I Know What You Did Last Semester.” Armed with unpredictable flashes of the future, Javier teams up with his fiercely loyal BFF to catch the psycho before their senior trip turns into an all-out bloodbath.
Overflowing with irreverent wit, nostalgic homages, and endearingly offbeat characters, Departing Seniors brings a playful queer perspective to the dead teenager movie. Is it a flawless feat of horror filmmaking? Perhaps not — the murder mystery itself is fairly predictable fare. But between its progressive social commentary and bubbling charisma, Cooney’s passion project prevails as a bloody good time.
Murder at Springhurst High
In the normally sleepy suburb of Springhurst, high school senior Javier Campos can’t wait to put this one-horse town in his rearview mirror. As a proud gay Mexican-American student surrounded by small-minded athletes and mean girls, he’s had to develop a thick skin just to survive the daily onslaught of bullying. Thankfully, Javier has his fearless best friend Bianca in his corner—she’s always ready to verbally eviscerate anyone dumb enough to mess with him.
Javier’s torment takes a dangerous turn when the school’s star swimmer tries to drown him in the pool after hours. Before things turn tragic, a mysterious figure in a haunting drama club mask arrives to permanently silence Javier’s attacker. This kicks off a chain of “suicides” targeting Springhurst’s resident bullies…but were they self-inflicted or murder?
While recovering in the hospital, Javier awakens to find he’s developed psychic abilities after his near-death experience. By touching objects and people, he gets bizarre flashes—glimpses into their past and potential futures. What he sees terrifies him, including premonitions foretelling grisly fates for students and teachers at Springhurst High.
With graduation just days away, Javier teams up with Bianca in a race against time to identify the masked killer in their midst…especially once the bodies start piling up leading into the senior lock-in event. Everyone’s a suspect, from the quiet kid crushing on Javier to his shady English teacher. But his hazy visions reveal surprises no one expected. Can Bianca and Javier stop the slittings and crack the case before their classmates become departed seniors in the most permanent sense?
Standout Talent Anchors an Uneven Debut
While Departing Seniors suffers from scattered directing and pacing issues, the stellar lead performances offer a shining beacon of hope. As psychic outsider Javier, Ignacio Diaz-Silverio brings wit, vulnerability, and steadfast self-assurance to the helm role. He juggles heavy emotional beats alongside screwball comedy with dexterous flair. Meanwhile, Ireon Roach nearly steals the show as his fiercely loyal wingwoman Bianca—every barbed takedown from her acidic tongue lands with precision.
Together, their platonic chemistry electrifies the screen. Supporting stars like Ryan Foreman (as Javier’s shy love interest) and Sasha Kuznetsov (oozing secret torment as a closeted bully) also make impressive splashes given limited screen time. If not for these magnetic talents, Departing Seniors may have crumbled under tonal instability.
For a debut effort, Clare Cooney demonstrates admirable ambition but inconsistent finesse when it comes to directing and framing her zany horror-comedy vision. Visually speaking, Departing Seniors embraces its low-budget constraints with minimal flash but offers few memorable set pieces outside the high school setting. The cinematography relies more on intimate emotional beats rather than stylistic flair.
From a tonal standpoint, Cooney struggles to toe the line between campy satire, gruesome shocks, and heartfelt coming-of-age themes. The script follows suit with clever dialogue but an uneven balance between developing its queer protagonists and advancing the fairly predictable murder mystery. She shows sparks of potential but lacks the steady directorial hand needed to smooth out Departing Seniors’ rough edges.
Scribe Jose Nateras deserves praise for bringing a perspective rarely seen in the horror arena to his script: an unapologetically queer hero of color. The world of Departing Seniors normalizes LGBTQ+ experiences while confronting issues like homophobia and racism with nuance.
However, these compelling themes wrestle for prominence alongside familiar slasher trappings and on-the-nose meta gags nodding to earlier horror classics. From scene to scene, the script alternately indulges in gruesome violence, warm sentimentality, and wink-wink humor. This scattershot approach keeps viewers whipsawing tonally. Still, Nateras tackles provocative social themes with sensitivity when the story pauses for breath.
Out and Proud in the Face of Hate
While clad in slasher trappings, the soul of Departing Seniors lies in its compassionate exploration of otherness and identity. Through psychic outsider Javier, the film puts a heroic lens on marginalized experiences too often relegated to sidekick status. Javier stands defiantly out and proud despite the cruel taunts of high school bullies—his queerness and Mexican-American background inform his worldview but never pigeonhole him wholly. Departing Seniors argues that no one group or identity deserves to be the default “norm” to which all others get compared.
By viciously targeting his tormentors, the masked killer takes twisted vigilante justice to extremes. However, the film condemns these horrific means even if it sympathizes with the pent-up rage driving such vengeance. Revenge only breeds more violence rather than healing societal rifts. Only by embracing empathy and mutual understanding can we build bridges across difference. Thrill-ride chaos aside, Departing Seniors contains an earnest appeal to face increasing cultural divides with open minds, not closed fists.
While hardly subtle in conveying these ideals, the film’s heart lies in the right place. Departing Seniors urges that outcasts and weirdos deserve not just tolerance but joyful celebration. Life’s richness stems from our diversity, not any flimsy illusion of “normal.” By proudly wearing one’s uniqueness against an oppressive grain, we each have power to create positive ripples of change. The journey toward a just world begins with proudly championing who you are, even under threat from small-minded haters. For inspirational messaging alone, Departing Seniors merits high marks.
Highs and Lows of a Promising Debut
Starting with the positives, Departing Seniors delivers well-drawn lead characters thanks to magnetic performances from Ignacio Diaz-Silverio and Ireon Roach. Their platonic chemistry energizes even slower scenes. Clare Cooney also deserves applause for spotlighting underrepresented voices typically sidelined in horror. Story-wise, Javier’s unexplained psychic visions provide fresh intrigue to the formulaic slasher template.
Though the murder mystery itself underwhelms, these supernatural wrinkles keep things interesting while expanding the final boy role beyond tired archetypes. We get genuine surprises as a result. On the production end, the film squeezes solid mileage from its modest budget, peppering in stylistic flourishes like slick title animations. Fans of say, Pretty Little Liars, may also enjoy the juicy teen drama.
Unfortunately, Cooney’s directorial inexperience rears its head through uneven pacing and tone. The script spends more time developing interpersonal relationships than building actual horror suspense, which leaves the slasher elements feeling like an afterthought.
For a film that name-drops Scream, the kill scenes prove largely bloodless and tame. Departing Seniors masks severe tonal whiplash with cheeky humor and meta references, but can’t quite smooth over the clashing ingredients of satire, splatter, and sincerity. Is it an incisive coming-of-age drama championing outsiders or a tongue-in-cheek scary movie parody? This lack of tonal focus frustrates. Still, the film displays enough flashes of brilliance to mark Cooney as a genre director to watch…once she gains surer footing.
Hits More Than It Misses
At the end of the day, Departing Seniors shows enough glimmers of subversive charm to warrant a look for horror fans, despite stumbling in tonal execution at times. For an indie debut feature, director Clare Cooney demonstrates admirable chutzpah tackling underrepresented topics and tropes alike. Uneven blend of slasher gore and feel-good drama aside, this dark queer fantasia wins points for audacity. It proves love stories need not be relegated solely to cis-white romance with a knowing, playfully tongue-in-cheek style true to its teen scream inspirations.
The tour de force central performances from Ignacio Diaz-Silverio and Ireon Roach gift this stylistically wobbly whodunit a glowing heart worth championing. For its insensitive treatment of otherness issues alone, Departing Seniors deserves a shout. Even when the film itself loses its identity amidst colliding tones, its charismatic leads anchor our emotional investment.
For horror fans craving LGBTQ+ representation or supporters of rising directorial talent, I happily recommend Cooney’s freshman feature—clunky pacing, campy gags, sly commentary, and all. Just expect an oddball mishmash of styles rather than slasher greatness. All things considered, Departing Seniors still packs enough entertainment value for an engaging movie night diversion.
Despite its flaws, Departing Seniors prevails as a well-intentioned, genre-blending romp that announces Clare Cooney as a fresh directorial voice. She may still have room to grow when balancing tones and themes, but makes bold strides spotlighting marginalized groups in a hackneyed cinematic arena.
- Strong lead performances from Ignacio Diaz-Silverio and Ireon Roach
- Witty dialogue and humor
- Inclusive representation of LGBTQ+ characters
- Some stylish and slick directing choices
- Creative psychic visions/supernatural element
- Killer reveal has surprising twists
- Uneven tone and pacing
- Underdeveloped secondary characters
- Low-budget effects look unpolished
- Scattershot blend of one-liners, gore, drama
- Lacks tension and atmosphere as a horror/slasher