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Departing Seniors

The horror movie element isn’t even the most compelling part of the horror movie “Departing Seniors.” There’s no real tension in this murder mystery (or much mystery, for that matter), the kills aren’t clever, and eventually this part of the story ends up feeling entirely unnecessary. 

More intriguing in the feature filmmaking debut from Clare Cooney is the unwanted psychic ability our put-upon teenage hero discovers he has. Queer, Mexican-American outcast Javier (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio) tumbles down a flight of stairs at school while the jock jerks are bullying him, as usual, and suffers a serious bump on the head. When he regains consciousness in the hospital, he discovers he can see people’s pasts or futures just by touching them or even contacting something they’ve touched. This is not exactly information he needs in his brain, especially once a killer goes on a rampage in the days before graduation and he finds he can do nothing to stop the bloodshed.  

Screenwriter Jose Nateras borrows heavily from Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” with this plot point, but projects it through the self-aware prism of this high school setting, which gives it a somewhat fresh sense of humor. Diaz-Silverio is extremely likable as Javier: quick-witted and incredulous at the idiocy surrounding him. He has a lively, irreverent chemistry with Ireon Roach as his one and only friend, Bianca. Roach has such an engaging presence and such a way with the smart-ass, BFF banter that she makes you wish there were more to her character. As it stands, her entire raison d’etre is to drive Javier around town and help him sort through his troubles. 

Javier also has a sweetly awkward flirtation with the handsome new kid, William (Ryan Foreman). As a fellow gay high school student—and a band geek—William sympathizes and connects with Javier on many levels, but he also happens to be around at just the right, opportune moments. Other key supporting characters are thinly drawn, including the school’s antagonistic, all-star athletes (Cameron Scott Roberts and Sasha Kuznetsov), the mean-girl valedictorian (Maisie Merlock) and the kindhearted English teacher (Yani Gellman). His hackneyed plea of “Bueller? Bueller?” when none of his students respond to him in class isn’t even good for a chuckle of recognition. 

These are all familiar types and tropes, and the low-budget “Departing Seniors” doesn’t breathe much new life into them. Other parts of the story, however, make little to no sense, including the details of the swimming-pool kill that opens the film. How is it possible that nobody freaks out when a murder takes place on campus? Why is Javier’s dad almost entirely absent from this movie, including from the hospital where he first discovers his powers? Why are there no letters on the jocks’ letterman jackets?  

These quibbles might be more tolerable if the craft on display were more proficient, or if the pacing were more suspenseful. The sound quality is often inconsistent, with some bits of dialogue registering as tinny. But it all ends on a note that suggests the mask-wearing murderer isn’t done wreaking havoc at this school, so maybe there’s a chance that everyone will get it right the second time around. 

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for RogerEbert.com since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Departing Seniors movie poster

Departing Seniors (2024)

85 minutes

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