Oct 25, 2023
Ignacio Diaz-Silverio, Ireon Roach
With her feature debut, director Clare Cooney skates some familiar ice but tweaks the high school slasher enough to produce a charming, compelling and strangely fresh slasher with Departing Seniors.
Jose Nateras’s script centers on Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), a high school senior who loves his best friend Bianca (Ireon Roach) and his gig on the high school paper, and maybe new guy William (Ryan Foreman). Otherwise, high school blows, but it’s almost over and then – even if Ginny (Maisie Merlock) steals his slot as valedictorian – he and Bianca will be out of this Podunk town and on to better things.
Graduation can’t come soon enough, though, because Ginny and her letter-jacket buddies have amped up the bullying. Things are so bad Javier barely even notices when the first of the popular jock dumbasses dies in the pool of apparent suicide.
At its best, Departing Seniors breathes life into the tropes of coming-of-age horror films. Cooney has gathered a truly talented and memorable group of young actors to elevate a clever if somewhat predictable take on the high school slasher. This cast, top to bottom, impresses and Nateras writes characters that they can sink their teeth into.
Diaz-Silverio reimagines the bullied teen with tenderness, resilience and humor. An exceptional, empathetic central figure, it is impossible not to root for Javier.
Roach continues her streak (after Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin and Perpetrator as well as Nia DaCosta’s Candyman) of carving memorable characters regardless of screen time. She brings a relatable, cynical humor that also emphasizes Javier’s kindness.
The traditional plotting eventually limits the film’s creative success and the speechifying undoes a lot of the nuanced storytelling that preceded it, but you never stop caring about the characters. Departing Seniors subverts every one-dimensional high school slasher cliché to deliver a startlingly empathetic and effecting thriller.