Film / The Skulls

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The Skulls is a 2000 American psychological thriller film starring Joshua Jackson, Paul Walker and Leslie Bibb, directed by Rob Cohen. Its plot is based upon some of the conspiracy theories surrounding Yale University's Skull and Bones student society.

The film was critically panned, but successful enough to spawn two direct-to-video sequels, The Skulls II, directed by Joe Chappelle and starring Robin Dunne, Ashley Lyn Cafagna and The Skulls III, with Clare Kramer as the first woman member of the society.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Subverted. When Luke's best friend Will ends up dead, and he suspects his new friend Caleb. He watches the security tapes, and sees Will fall off a ledge to the floor below (which isn't enough to kill him), but Caleb grabs his legs to try to save him. He doesn't hold on, and Will falls on his head, and a cracking sound can be heard. Caleb assumes he accidentally broke Will's neck and leaves. However, Luke then continues watching and realizes Will is still alive, until Caleb's father's men arrive and finish off Will.
  • All That Glitters: Despite the possibility of having his ideal life handed to him on a silver platter as opposed to the way he was struggling before, Luke very rapidly realizes that being a Skull isn't all it's cracked up to be when he discovers how corrupt the group is.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Not so much ancient but fits all of the criteria.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: After the bad guys have cornered Luke and Chloe, one of them is about to shoot him. We hear the sound of gunshots. . .coming from the detective who until now has been acting like one of the bad guys but just revealed himself to be on Luke's side by taking out his would-be killer.
  • Big Brother Is Watching You: Caleb warns—outright begs—Luke to stop digging into Will's death, telling him that both of their dorm rooms as well as that of Luke's friend Chloe are bugged and that The Skulls know what he's been up to.
  • Big "NO!": Caleb, after supposedly accidentally killing Will
  • Black Best Friend: Will
  • Black Dude Dies First: Will again.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: Subverted. Luke and Chloe stage an argument in which he dumps her—when they weren't even dating, just dealing with a lot of Unresolved Sexual Tension—in order to make The Skulls think that she's no longer important to him.
  • Captain Ersatz: As mentioned in the recap, the university and the "Skulls" stand in for Yale and it's Skull and Bones society.
  • Car Fu: Some of The Skulls' hired goons try to run Chloe and Luke off the road.
  • Come with Me If You Want to Live: As Chloe runs away from the bad guys trying to kill her, she's intercepted by Levritt, who tells her to get into his car and promises to take her to where Luke has been institutionalized. Realizing she doesn't have much choice, she jumps in. It turns out he was telling the truth.
  • Continuity Nod: Will's parents make an appearance in the second film.
  • Deal with the Devil: Metaphorically speaking. The Skulls can make you in whatever field you choose and let you live the life you want... at the low, low price of murder, manipulation, blackmail and fraud.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Litten Mandrake, who has done numerous despicable things throughout the film, including allowing his son to think he was responsible for a murder he ordered, is utterly disgusted at co-conspirator—who is himself displaying this trope—Ames Levritt's choice of a lover, even while freely admitting to his own infidelities—"My God, man, she's only 19!"
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Luke and Caleb hit it off during hazing and become even closer as the film progresses.
  • Frame-Up: Taylor is framed for murder in the third film because The Skulls want her father, a prominent politician, in their pocket.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Luke, Chloe, and Will live in dorm rooms that are bigger and nicer than some people's apartments, even though it's repeatedly stated that Luke is struggling financially. And even with Chloe's wealth, the vast majority of dorm rooms simply do not look like that.
  • He Knows Too Much: Basically why all three protagonists of each film.are in danger throughout.
  • Interclass Romance: Luke offhandedly mentions that Chloe's rich, indicating that this is the reason he hasn't told her how he feels about her.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When Ames Levritt refuses to go along with the plan to send Luke to a mental hospital, declaring, "I have my limits", Litten Mandrake scoffs, "Really?", then calls him out on his hypocrisy with proof of his extramarital affair, pointing out that these supposed "limits" don't include not sleeping with a 19-year old cheerleader.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Will's murder, made to look like a suicide. That said, Luke is suspicious from the get-go—Will wasn't depressed and he knows he was snooping into the background of The Skulls.
  • Manipulative Bastard: At the film's conclusion, it's implied that Levritt engineered the whole thing so that he could take over the group. On the plus side, he sincerely wants to change it for the better.
  • The Powers That Be: The Skulls control America in the setting.
  • Rags to Riches: Luke goes from a working class schlub who's had to struggle all his life and is only at this prestigious university via scholarship to having $20,000 in the bank and a guaranteed acceptance to the law school of his choice before he's even applied, all thanks to membership in The Skulls.
  • Rape as Drama: Subverted in the third film. Shortly after her induction ceremony, Taylor takes a mandatory drug test for her swim team and is informed that a date-rape drug has been found in her system. Her doctor and coach gently ask her if she's been assaulted, but she's certain that she wasn't. She does realize that the sedative was given to knock her out and leave her with amnesia for the night's events—and set her up for murder.
  • Recycled In SPACE: Several film critics likened this movie to a college version of The Firm.
  • Scary Black Man: Subverted with the detective investigating Will's death, as he acts in a very intimidating manner towards Luke before it's revealed that he's been Luke's ally all the while.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Becoming filthy rich overnight as well as a guaranteed acceptance to the law school of his choice—before he's even applied—and essentially having his entire life handed to him on a silver platter as opposed to the way he was struggling before is NOT worth ignoring his friend's murder and the cover-up of numerous other illegal activities that The Skulls are involved in.
  • Shower of Love: Luke and Chloe hide out in his bathroom with the shower running to mask the sound of their voices, as his room is bugged. She declares her love for him, they start kissing, and sure enough. . .
  • The Smurfette Principle: In the third film, protagonist Taylor Brooks campaigns to join The Skulls, pointing out that she has all the qualifications and that if she were a man, there'd be no question. The leaders relent after warning her that she will be subjected to the same hazing as the male inductees. She succeeds, but of course, it was all a setup for the group's ominous intentions.
  • Soft Water: Luke and Caleb fall from the top of a building into what is likely a shallow moat. They are of course, unharmed.
  • Ten Paces and Turn: Luke challenges Caleb to a duel at the Skulls' private island. After Luke and Caleb take their ten paces and turn around, Luke drops his gun and tries to convince Caleb of the truth and that he is not responsible for Will's murder.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: The friendship of Luke, Will, and Chloe, even though it doesn't last the entire film.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The basic plot of the third film—female determined to join male-only group—is vaguely reminiscent of Shannon Faulkner's campaign to enroll at The Citadel.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Levritt outright says this to Luke at the end of the film, when Luke has not only managed to expose the corruption of The Skulls, he refuses to have anything more to do with the group despite Levritt's insistence that he will make changes.
    • This line has made some fans of the movie speculate that Levritt is in fact Luke's Disappeared Dad.
    • Caleb, sadly, is craving this from his father, who is clearly disappointed in his lack of ambition or desire to follow in his footsteps.
  • Wham Line: "He's challenging you to a duel, Caleb."


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