In 1985, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club hit theaters, and changed the way Hollywood told stories about teenagers forever. With it, Hughes created a world in which teens weren’t merely the background characters filling out an adult universe: They had experiences all their own; ones worthy of exploration. And while the film will go down in movie history, appearing on Best Of Movie lists for decades to come, Hulu and Blumhouse are here to turn the classic on its head with a little blood and gore.
The film’s original concept — high school students who seem wildly different on the surface find common ground over the course of a Saturday detention — is the inspiration for School Spirit, the latest installment of Hulu’s monthly horror film anthology series, Into the Dark. Into the Dark: School Spirit asks the same question that Hughes did all those years ago: “Should you judge a book by its cover?” Now, that question is explored through the lens of the social media obsessed Gen Z movie, and the answer is: “Nope, because the book might just be a deranged serial killer.”
“I [read the script with] expectations about who my character Erika Yang and all the other characters, were,” Into the Dark star Annie Q., 26, tells Refinery29 over the phone. “They seem like perfect prototypes out of a John Hughes film. Then the script went into a totally different direction than I thought."
In the film, Q’s Erika is a classic overachiever. She’s a Harvard-bound student who splits her time between running the morning announcements, volunteering, and every other resume builder under the sun. But one day, she finds herself in detention with a few “bad kids,” like Lizzy (Jessi Case), a troublemaker who pulls fire alarms for “fun,” smart mouth Victor (Julian Works), and vandal Russ (Philip Labes). Then there’s Brett (Corey Fogelmanis of Girl Meets World and Ma) a sweet, shy nerd who, at first, seems like a far better fit for Erika than her basketball jock ex-boyfriend. He’s not the detention type — and neither is Erika, and everyone knows it.
If this was The Breakfast Club, this coming-of-age tale would involve Brett and Erika finding an unexpected spark during their dull detention, but this is a dark and twisted series known for exploring human-on-human horror. (Its July addition, Culture Shock, took on the border crisis with a horrific, Black Mirror-esque twist. Another, its New Year’s episode “New Year, New You,” tackled the toxic world of influencer culture.) Plus, Gen Z has seen more than enough of the sweeter version of the Breakfast Club’s iconic strangers-to-friends storyline across the many different teen shows, from Dawson’s Creek to Lizzie McGuire to Degrassi. CW’s Riverdale did its own Breakfast Club homage in season 3, though it, too skewed on the more murder-y side — possibly because this new generation now has plenty examples of the honesty and earnestness of the teen experience that felt revolutionary in the ‘80s.
Like Riverdale, School Spirit remixes Hughes’ narrative by weaving in the urban legend of the “School Spirit,” rumored to be the zombie of an uptight teacher who seeks revenge on students after her own played a cruel and deadly prank. The film borrows from masked killer-centric slashers like Halloween when the titular School Spirit — dressed in a mascot costume — hacks away at the room full of students. (That’s one way to cut bonding time short.) The students fight for their lives...until it’s revealed that the killer might be one of them.
“The fact that people aren’t who you think they are, that you can have an idea about who people are, but you never really know: That’s scary,” says 19-year-old Fogelmanis over the phone.
“Our true lives look nothing like our Instagram feed,” explains Q. “Do you really know the people around you, or do you just know this one version of them? On the surface, [Erika] is your model minority personified. Once you get into the meat of the film, Erika is a lot more than meets the eye.”
Even though the film completely flips the script on the seemingly perfect, type-A Erika, it does so without dehumanizing her, like many horror movies often do with women. Instead, it focuses on the harsh and sometimes shocking reality that teens live in: a world full of perceived perfection. Take a quick scroll through your own Instagram and you’ll see a stream of happy, shiny, carefree photosWe never really knowing what’s really going on behind the lens.
“Social media is really rough, especially in terms of comparing yourself to others,” Fogelmanis adds. “I think Erika in the movie [does exactly that].” Erika’s constant striving to seem better than everyone else is exactly what puts her in detention in the first place, and what eventually connects her to the violence of the School Spirit. To say more…well, that’d just give too much away.
Exactly what happens in School Spirit, well, you’ll have to watch and see. What you shouldn’t expect is Bender’s (Judd Nelson) triumphant (and totally Instagrammable) fist pump at the end.
Into the Dark: School Spirit premieres August 2 on Hulu.