There’s a lot of fun to be had in Clare Cooney’s film, “Departing Seniors.” Cooney designs her film as a teen slasher, one that is especially self-aware in a gleeful, campy way. If one makes peace with its fluffy tone, the film ensures the viewer sticks around even though there’s a stretch of hackneyed elements. In Cooney’s hands, however, these tropes don’t feel worn down by a weight of familiarity. The director brings a light, spry touch, grounding the been-there-done-that in a tale that cheekily acknowledges the dark underside of a high school set up so akin to the slasher. The genre has long been dominated by cishet narratives; to watch a queer protagonist of color at the forefront who importantly doesn’t let all the bullying at school crush him is in itself a refreshing change.

Javier ( Ignacio Diaz-Silverio) is in his final school year. The film is structured as leading up to the graduation day. A student is found dead in the school’s swimming pool. It is declared as suicide; however, the opening cues us to a Scream-mask-donning killer who seems to be a savior for the bullied, nipping the tormentor in the bud. Javier doesn’t need any saving, though. He is comfortable in his queerness, and we meet him at a point when he has presumably moved past the rough early patch of being badly hit by all the commonplace slurs routinely hurled his way.

Now, Javier hits back. This unfussiness with Javier’s frank embrace of his sexuality makes the film not stray into a soppy mess of tired queer angst. This needs special emphasis because not only does it come across as a deliberate choice on the part of the makers but also actively and invigoratingly vest queer representation with positive agency and potential.

Javier’s best friend, Bianca ( a scene-stealing Ireon Roach), and English teacher, Mr Arda (Yani Gellman), are his solid planks of support. At school, the clique of jocks led by Trevor (Cameron Scott Roberts) and his girlfriend, Ginny (Maisie Merlock), is regularly at Javier’s back. Trevor and his best buddy, Brad (Sasha Kuznetsov), exemplify the dudebro gang. Interestingly, Javier has some other kind of history with Brad, the two having had many secret flings. It is when Javier discloses this to Trevor to Brad’s displeasure that there is a scuffle and he is pushed down the stairs.

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The incident leaves with a peculiar gift for visions, where, by touching an object belonging to someone, he gets a rapid, disorienting peek into either their past or future. Bianca helpfully informs it is called psychometry. Javier is deeply troubled by this new ability. He is disconcerted by its scope and what it entails, especially rattled by the visions about those around him.

Departing Seniors (2024) Movie Review
A still from Departing Seniors (2024)

The film skips through Javier’s relationship to his newly acquired ability as tension escalates around the string of dead bodies. Suddenly, he finds himself amidst a storm of unpredictable violence as he grapples with seizing action, impelled by Bianca. Eventually, the thrill of finding the masked killer subsides despite the heightened urgency ascribed to allow a reframing of the coming-of-age through a mature lens. It helps enormously that Cooney has assembled a fine cast bubbling with sincere, fresh energy. The central duo of Silverio and Roach is absolutely spectacular, hilarious, and endearing, making us care despite some jadedness in the writing of their chemistry.

It’d be remiss not to highlight the superb Sasha Kuznetsov (also remarkable in last year’s deliciously unhinged “Perpetrator”), who evokes a wellspring of repressed emotion in a standout moment between him and Silverio. As Brad confesses to Javier, implicitly wishing he had the latter’s courage, Kuznetsov manages to excavate a compelling vulnerability within the brief span of the scene. It is a brisk, energetic film, leaning more toward flashiness, but Kuznetsov imbues it with hints of hidden, aching interiority. This is an actor I want to see more of.

“Departing Seniors” flags in the final leg, especially because the unmasking is accompanied with unnecessary overwriting. The surfeit of action tends to blur together. A certain, sharp punch is sorely missing, yet these are minor niggles in a film that mostly breezes by in crackling enjoyable ways.

Read More: 20 Important Queer Movies Of The 20th Century

Departing Seniors (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
Departing Seniors (2024) Movie Cast: Ignacio Diaz-Silverio, Yani Gellman, Ireon Roach
Departing Seniors (2024) Movie Genre: Comedy/Horror, Runtime: 1h 25m
Where to watch Departing Seniors

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