Makani Young was forced to leave her life in Hawaii behind after a terrible accident. She now lives with her grandmother in Osborne, Nebraska—basically, a giant cornfield, the most boring place on the planet. That is, until Makani’s classmates start turning up dead, with some of their darkest secrets being broadcast to the entire town. Could it be one of her friends? The boy she has feelings for that everyone else thinks is a psycho? Or someone else entirely that no one would suspect? And with her own dark secret, could Makani be next?
I won’t lie: I was terrified to watch this adaptation. I like horror books a lot, even though they sometimes scare the pants off me. I just find it easier to read scary stuff on a page rather than watching it play out in front of my eyes, in all its gory, terrifying horror. I don’t do well with horror movies. I used to love them, but my anxiety has gotten the best of me. I try to avoid them at all costs. But I loved the novel so much that I knew I’d just have to put on my big girl pants and watch it – during the day, with lots of snacks, through my fingers. And I survived!
Cast-wise, I thought Netflix did a pretty good job. All the characters felt like young, new actors (or, at least I didn’t recognize any myself). They definitely looked like high schoolers, so that’s a big plus.
Sydney Park, who played Makani Young, is probably the most recognizable of the cast. She’s most popular for her role on The Walking Dead, which I stopped watching ages ago so I never made it to her season, apparently. I thought she did a really good job – very believable and likeable/sympathetic while being a pretty shitty character. I remember not liking her much in the book, and that dislike carried over swiftly into the movie. I felt like her past was more detailed and discussed in the book than the movie, though the movie definitely gave her a more tragic, dark past than the book did.
Théodore Pellerin played Ollie, the love interest and the most obvious character people would pin the murders on – unpopular loner with dead parents and childhood behavioral problems. I thought he was the perfect Ollie and I adored him. He was my favorite character in the book and by far my favorite in the movie, too. Such a cutie. Just saying.
The others in the friend group, Zachariah Sandford (Dale Whibley), Darby (Jesse LaTourette), Alexandra Crisp (Asjha Cooper), Rodrigo Doran (Diego Josef), and Caleb Greeley (Burkely Duffield) were all just as great, just slightly less interesting than the two main characters, in my opinion. They were all prevalent in the film, yet somehow felt like minor characters with little development. None of the actors have Wikipedia pages, so it makes sense I haven’t ever seen them before. I thought they all did an amazing job, though, and really brought the characters to life.
The story itself is drastically different from the book. The little things were the same: small town cornfield, classmates being murdered, Makani with a dark, secret past… But the details were quite different, and I’m not 100% sure why. But I can’t say I hated it. Perhaps the biggest difference between the book and the movie are the details surrounding the killer. In the book, the killer’s MO is hiding in the victims’ houses, sometimes rearranging things and making messes to confuse the victim before ending their life. We find out pretty early on that the killer is David, a minor character and friend of Rodrigo. He doesn’t think he’ll ever make it out of his shitty small town and wants his classmates to suffer along with him, hence the murders. He is “unmasked” early on in the book, so Makani and her friends know exactly who they’re looking for in the final parade scene. Though Alex is killed in the process and Ollie wounded, Makani is able to kill him in the end.
The movie tells quite a different tale… Though Jackson Pace is killed in his home, and Makani is almost killed in her house, the rest of the murders do not happen “inside your house.” Rodrigo is killed in Zach’s yard, and Katie Koons is killed in a church. The killer does not rearrange peoples’ belongings, but he does toy with his victims in another way. The movie killer is intent on killing his classmates that are essentially being hypocrites, lying their way to success and popularity. The killer makes it clear to his victims that he knows their secrets, printing out pictures or playing a sound recording, creating a line of pills leading to their demise, etc. Not only is the victim murdered, but their secret is revealed to everyone. He does not kill everyone inside their house. And he is not unmasked until the very end, in the middle of a cornfield, after killing his own father. Zach is revealed as the killer, and while Alex survives the movie ending, Ollie is wounded and Makani does kill Zach. Two similar endings that took very different routes to get there.
I found the book motive to be extremely unbelievable. Some random kid just killing his classmates so they don’t become successful and leave the town? Really? Very far-fetched. Not only was I unable to guess the killer’s identity in the book because he was such a minor, random character, but he was also unmasked super early. It didn’t ruin the book, per se, because I was still on edge and hoping none of the other main characters died. But it did take away the mystery and make things slightly less enjoyable for me. Whereas in the movie, Zach was definitely a possible suspect in my mind, and I liked that they didn’t reveal it until the very end. His motive was more plausible: some rich, privileged white kid who killed his classmates for being hypocrites, while simultaneously being a hypocrite himself. Very on-brand and believable. That scene where he kills his dad made my stomach hurt. Actually, all of the murder scenes made me want to gag, especially Rodrigo’s because A) I liked him, B) It didn’t really make sense because he was just taking pills (no big deal) and he was completely harmless, not really being a hypocrite at all, but whatever, Zach, you clearly just wanted to kill someone, and C) The sound effects of him choking on pills just triggered my gag reflex hardcore. Although I was disappointed the characters weren’t all killed in their houses with the creepy rearranging thing, I will say having the killer wear his victims’ faces upped the spook-factor immensely and worked well.
A big complaint about the book is that there was “too much romance” between Ollie and Makani. Personally, that didn’t bother me. They are high schoolers. Of course they’re still going to find time to make out and have sex whilst avoiding being murdered. That is not unrealistic to me. The movie toned it down, I think. There’s little romance shown between the two, and Alex and Rodrigo only share a brief scene together before he’s killed. So if the romance thing killed your vibe in the book, you may like how little there is of it in the movie.
As an adaptation, I think the movie worked well. It took the bones of the book and improved on it in ways that I think readers will appreciate. However, I think non-readers will overall not enjoy the movie. Like I said, I’m not a huge horror movie aficionado, but I can tell it’s not exactly what someone might be looking for when watching a horror movie. Though two characters are killed very early on in the movie, there’s a lot of slowness after that before anyone else is killed or attempted to be killed. I think all the “extra” scenes will feel boring to non-reader viewers who don’t have any sort of attachment to the characters or interest in the overall story. It’s definitely very YA, though still graphic and creepy, so I think this will mostly appeal to readers of the book and easy-to-please horror movie lovers and suspense film watchers.
As for myself, like I said in the beginning of this review, I much prefer to read a horror book as opposed to watching a horror film. I am a baby. And though I loved the MO in the book and the romance between Makani and Ollie, I have to say the killer and motive in the movie just made more sense. I really am torn between which I enjoyed more. Deciding solely based on my own preferences, I think I’ll have to say…