Meet Erin (Catherine Morvell). She's a socially awkward college attendee currently studying film, who's kept in touch with her best pal from her school days, Rachel (Gabrielle Pearson). While we're at it, I may as well briefly introduce you to their other friends from days gone by, all of whom will also form part of the ensuing yarn: Jake (Taylor Pearce), Tom (Maximilian Johnson), Marnie (Ace Whitman), upwardly mobile and wannabe politician Cameron (Charles Jazz Terrier) and his pill-popping girlfriend Cara (Aly Chang). Rachel has stayed close with this crowd; Erin, not so much.
When we first meet the gang, they're all excited about an impending party due to be held at Jake's apartment.
In the meantime, Erin spends her spare time waitressing in the college cafe. One afternoon while working there, she notices that her classroom crush - grungy teen Alex (Jesse Bouma) - has finished his coffee and forgotten to take his laptop with him. She retrieves it herself with the intention of later returning it to him.
Of course, later that evening while enjoying a drink round at Rachel's place, Erin can't resist the temptation to take a peek when Alex's laptop receives an incoming email. The missive is from the enigmatically named SnuffBoy002 and reads "Hey. Love your work, but getting a bit soft. More like this one please" When Erin clicks on the attached video, she's subjected to a viscous double-stabbing filmed in shaky first-person mode from the killer's perspective.
Erin somehow manages to keep this shocking discovery from Rachel, who obliviously returns from refilling their drinks and suggests they make their way to Jake's party. This they do, although the mood seems somewhat soured upon Erin's arrival - and it's quickly established that there's bad blood between Marnie and Erin.
The following morning Alex approaches Erin in the cafe and they enjoy a brief conversation. The chemistry is instant, despite the leery stare in his eyes when he says his hobbies enjoy "making movies, mostly amateur ones" and the way he needs to rush away upon receiving a notification on his phone. As he departs, Alex asks Erin if he can add her on Facebook. He's a potential killer, but he's hot so she's still chuffed and accepts!
After discussing it with Rachel, Erin invites Alex to accompany her to Rachel's birthday party at her house. She turns up with Alex in tow, which makes Marnie and Cara visibly jealous. Marnie can't help but openly be a bitch to Erin in front of Alex.
Later that night, Marnie's in bed chatting to Jake on video call and she shows remorse for her earlier attitude. We learn about something from their past which has tainted their friendship with Erin much to their regret. The guilt they share is strong. While this information sinks in, someone breaks in to Marnie's apartment. The assailant, complete with balaclava and a small camera strapped round their head, films their stabbing of Marnie. All Jake can do is watch on in horror.
In the morning a "Bye Bye Marnie" snuff video appears on a hungover Rachel's phone. Rachel and her friends are understandably devastated by this revelation. Not Erin though, she's pretty indifferent about the news - although she is privately worried that Alex may be the culprit.
Erin takes Alex for a ride on the back of her motorcycle one afternoon and opens up to him about her past with Jake and Marnie. We finally learn just how they betrayed her trust. "Just know that I'll never let anyone hurt you, ever" Alex assures her - and then they share their first kiss.
Hmm. What pattern is about to emerge, do you suppose? And which one of Rachel's obnoxious friends will be next to bite the bullet on camera?
Writer-director Sam Hamilton's WHAT GOES AROUND is bright and colourful, slick and pretty. Production values are extremely polished considered the film's apparent budget of just $20,000. The stereo audio is big on sound effects and music although dialogue itself is not always crystal clear (the only real tell-tale sign of a low budget); coupled with the strong Australian accents this means it's difficult at times hard to make everything out.
Short and snappily edited, pace is never a problem here. The film does have issues, however, in other areas ...
The plot is engaging enough to hold the attention, but defies logic in so many ways that much of what ensues becomes unintentionally silly. There's no police activity at all as the killings mount up, and the snuff videos being bandied about on people's phones stir no publicity or controversy locally whatsoever. And why is Erin so keen to throw herself into a relationship with a suspected psychopath? The plot is literally not developed at all outside of its immediate characters and scenario.
On top of this, performances are sometimes iffy, as if most of the characters have been sedated and are consequently barely capable of reacting to what would no doubt be a terrifying situation in which you're witnessing your friends being slaughtered and fearing that you may be next.
Another problem is that the majority of this bunch of protagonists are such smarmy, grinning, privileged cunts that you're just waiting around anxiously for them to get murdered. It's hard to empathise with a group of catalogue pretty, self-serving, personality-free robots.
WHAT GOES AROUND rides along on the tropes of the post-90s teen slasher genre: the past incident that serves as catalyst for what's currently transpiring; the perfect-bone-structure dolly bird/boy casting; the self-aware references to modern living (texts, internet, online snuff, social media etc).
Oh, and despite the killer's visage being obscured for the film's first 50 minutes, there's really no doubting their identity - it's so obvious even the protagonists should've sussed it within 5 minutes.
Gore is present but fairly subdued, with no real FX work to speak of.
This century has seen a tidal wave of both faux snuff movies and films based around the concept, it's good to see one that lifts it back from the hands of the no-fi, but it's not the film to help it enjoy the limited mainstream horror appeal that it did in the 1990s with films like THESIS, MUTE WITNESS and 8MM. This isn't as scary, intelligent or stylish as any of those.
The French thriller STRANGER BY THE LAKE dealt with the theme of the thrill of flirting with danger so much better, this is like SCREAM to that film's PSYCHO. Elsewhere, the apparently novel approach of affixing a camera to yourself to film a murder from your own point of view has been used previously, and to better effect, in the likes of Jorg Buttgereit's DER TODESKING and even Pedro Almodovar's KIKA.
WHAT GOES AROUND comes courtesy of production company Severed Mind Pictures, who have made it available to stream for free at present on Amazon Prime. The film comes fully uncut at 78 minutes and 21 seconds in length.
The transfer offered is a pristine, colourful HD presentation in its original 2.35:1 ratio. The 16x9 picture is sharp, detailed and authentic at all time, with strong blacks further contributing to the slick imagery.
A moderately wacky finale lifts WHAT GOES AROUND out of its derivative mire somewhat, but overall this is little more than a mild diversion. It's free to watch and it's relatively short - it's your call.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Severed Mind Pictures|