Scream is one of the best horror franchises of all time, period. Everyone has a favorite Scream movie and one that they revile the most. I don’t vibe with any of them because, in my honest opinion, all of them are fantastic. Wes Craven started the franchise as a meticulous deconstruction of the slasher-horror genre while ruminating about the commodification of trauma by films and other forms of media. When a new threat appeared, the series analyzed fandoms and how insidious they have become since their inception. And its critique of pop culture consumption is so pointed and blunt that it’ll probably be relevant as long as media exists and we exist to consume it. Killer Book Club is here to apply that theory to the world of literature. Does it work? Well, let’s find out.
Carlos Alonso Ojea’s adaptation of Carlos Garca Miranda’s El Club De Los Lectores Criminales opens with a woman presumably burning her own mother in a library while a message on the computer reads that someone is going to die. The narrative jumps forward six whole years and follows the members of a book club at an arts and literature university. Ángela is a one-time-wonder writer. Her boyfriend is Nando, who is a bartender and is new to the group. Sebas is an organizer and a fan of horror literature. Koldo is an influencer, but he isn’t respected. Sara brings the glam quotient to the group. Her boyfriend, Rai, is a gearhead. Eva is the librarian and, hence, in charge of acquiring the books the club needs. And Virginia is just there. Due to a miscommunication between the literature professor, With, and Ángela, and due to With’s inappropriate mindset, Ángela is sexually harassed by him. Inspired by the killer clown trend, the book club decides to teach a lesson, and the endeavor leads to a death. The club promises to never talk about it. However, a few hours later, they find out that a killer clown is out to get them and make a novel out of this murderous exercise.
Much like Scream, Killer Book Club delves into the horror genre via literature, and much like movies, it’s an aspect of the medium that is scoffed at by teachers and snobs alike because it’s apparently “cheap entertainment.” That pretty much sets the stage for a realistic depiction of how horror cliches and tropes can scare one to death despite their familiarity with them. Carlos Garcia Miranda seemingly tries to bank on the killer clown prank trend and remind us that coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) is a thing that exists. Of course, on the surface, it appears to be a stupid brand of fear, but when a killer in a clown get-up starts to take out people, the coulrophobia seeps in. But the thing is that, regardless of the costume, if anyone comes at you with a pickaxe, you are going to be afraid because the fear of life is common among everyone. Then what is the point of this clown stuff? Is Miranda saying that we shouldn’t trivialize killing pranks because anyone can use that trend to actually do some harm or get harmed? If that’s the case, it doesn’t stick because it’s not integral to the story. At least in Scream, there’s no explanation for the costume other than that it’s easily attainable, thereby making it so easy for the perpetrator to blend in. In this Netflix film, they try too hard to make it meaningful and end up shooting themselves in the foot.
What is integral to the Killer Book Club’s story is the concept of mining trauma to gain popularity and money, obviously. As someone who hates any form of entertainment based on true crime, I appreciate anything or anyone who critiques it because there’s something so sadistic about that particular subgenre, isn’t there? Knowing that the actions of a criminal had actual consequences and still deriving some kind of pleasure from them is horrible. As long as the villains and heroes are fictional, you can do anything with them. But when the author starts to not only blur the line between real and fictional but also erase it, then that doesn’t sit right with me. And given how the tussle between the killer and the victims revolves around this issue, I approve of it. However, isn’t this something that has already been done in Scream? Is this narrative saying something new? No, it’s not. Now, I understand the problem with “reinventing the wheel,” but what’s the issue with adding a little personality to the story and the characters? All of it is too generic to generate any emotion, and that’s why it feels like a hollow retread of something much more popular and well-thought-out.
Director Carlos Alonso Ojea, along with DOP Pablo Díez and editor Luis De La Madrid, try to inject some semblance of flavor into Killer Book Club with a few gory kills set in interesting places. But I think they shot their load a little too early by displaying all of their skills on the first kill. Without giving away any spoilers, two characters try to figure out how a murder has happened by reading the blog of the killer clown, which vividly describes how the perpetrator hunted down the victim. That’s juxtaposed with footage of the actual crime being committed, and the scene keeps alternating between day and night, thereby making it look very dynamic. Everything after that is pretty standard stuff. There’s a lot of practical, fake blood on the screen, which always sells the effect much better than CGI blood. It has a good balance between nighttime and daytime action sequences, and, unsurprisingly, the daytime sequences feel more visceral and nerve-wracking. Every time the movie switches the lights off and tries to act ominous, it loses my attention. I think the film’s running time goes by fast—maybe too fast because it should’ve allowed me to know these characters before watching them die. They don’t get substantial scenes to root for them or hate them, and that makes the whole affair feel so inconsequential.
The performances from the cast of Killer Book Club are fine. Veki Velilla has to do the most heavy lifting, and she knocks it out of the park. The mix of fear, anxiety, guilt, and the will to live is palpable on her face at all times. Álvaro Mel looks great in his turtlenecks, and that’s about it. Iván Pellicer is too wooden. Nando is pivotal to the plot. So, I don’t know why he is in this role. Priscilla Delgado, as a bundle of nerves, is pretty good. She doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but she leaves an impression. Ane Rot oozes style and confidence in every scene she is in. She has a startling amount of screen presence in comparison to the rest of the cast, thereby making her outshine everyone. María Cerezuela does well as the voice of reason in the group. I just love it when she reprimands everyone in the most logical fashion. Hamza Zaidi channels the energy of every influencer in existence, and it’s fascinating to see him turn his character’s smile from endearing to irritating. Carlos Alcaide aptly essays Rai’s boneheaded nature. He’s the only character I feel should’ve gotten a better send-off.
In conclusion, Killer Book Club isn’t a really good movie, and it’s not really a bad movie. It exists somewhere in between because it’s taking notes from a classic like Scream. If you steal from the best, you are going to end up with something meaningful, and that’s exactly what is happening with this film. But instead of spending your precious hours on this, I’d advise you to just go and watch the Scream movies or any slasher from the ’80s. I’m sure they are much more substantial and relevant than these derivative wannabes. It’s alright to give revered classics a Gen Z upgrade, but maybe lay off it if you don’t have anything to say. I’m sure Gen Z is smart enough to analyze old books and movies. Anyway, what you’ve read is only my opinion. Please watch Killer Book Club on Netflix, form your opinion, and feel free to share it with us.