The Skulls (2000)
Remember how in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s the year 2000 was going to be awesome? Everything was going to be futuristic and cool and, well, awesome!
As it turned out, not everything in the Year 2000 was awesome. In fact, some of the stuff that happened in 2000 was pretty bad. Take “The Skulls” for instance. It’s awful.
And yet strangely compelling at the same time. Not just because it stars a young Paul Walker and Joshua Jackson who was in the middle of his run as Pacey on the super popular show “Dawson’s Creek.” In other words, Pacey was the star at the time, not Paul Walker. Better yet, Pacey is the star athlete in The Skulls, not the insanely cut up Paul Walker.
Not just an athlete, but we’re led to believe he’s pretty much the top rower in the country. Pacey. Joshua Jackson. Movies can be amazing.
Pacey plays Luke, a townie working class former delinquent attending a university. That university is never named, but it’s Yale. They even wear Yale colors and the gym features a big blue “Y.” And, “The Skulls” is a reference to Yale’s infamous Skull and Bones secret society. The big rowing race feature opponents in crimson and white jerseys with H’s on them. So, yeah, this is Yale and the movie takes place in New Haven.
(Except it was filmed at the University of Toronto – although to be fair, they did a good job of aping Yale’s architecture and vibe I guess.)
Luke is poor. Everyone else is impossibly rich. Luke is drawn to The Skulls because it’s the most elite of the school’s societies and he was curious if the rumor that member’s had expensive things paid for – like, say, Harvard Law School.
His two friends hated the idea of losing him to The Skulls. His roommate Will (a student journalist) and his crush Chloe who has no time for such nonsense. Luke also doesn’t think she would fall for him: “Chloe went to Miss Porter’s and I can’t even dance. Her parents own a private jet. I’ve never even flown on a jet.”
I’ve learned that culturally, “Miss Porter’s” is the go-to for movies and books to call a young woman wealthy. Is it known beyond Connecticut? I guess so, as it’s where Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy went to school.
One night the trio pass the Skulls’ building… “the CIA was founded in there,” exclaimed Will. “Yes they were,” replied Luke. Later that night Skulls roofied him and others who then awoke in a bunch of coffins and had to do through some stupid rites. But his real friends are leaving him now that he was one of “them.”
Luke is tapped for the Skulls along with his nemesis Caleb Mandrake (Walker). Yes, the writers really named the super rich scheming kid “Caleb Mandrake.” Fantastic. They team up to steal some dumb thing from a rival society and fast-forward, they become Skulls.
Caleb’s dad is Head Skull, so that was a no-brainer. Caleb’s dad in the movie is Craig T. Nelson, who we all know as Coach. Caleb and Luke are “soul mates” in The Skulls. Blood brothers. Rides til they die. BFFs.
As they progress through the initiation period, so many ridiculous things happen. Each initiate is given a sports car. They wear tuxedos to fancy shindigs and models show up to prostitute themselves. They are given expensive watches to cover the tattoo branding each gets on his wrist. Note to self: you can out Skull and Bones guys buy looking at their wrists.
William Peterson (Gil Grissom on CSI) is a senator and he’s soulmates with Coach but there’s tension between the two. Luke’s roommate hates that his boy Luke is a Skull and they have a falling out.
The big turning point is when Will breaks into the Skulls building and is confronted by Caleb. They fight, Will falls and dies… BUT DOES HE?! He does not, but the head Skulls kill him and stage a suicide.
Luke recruits his townie friends to help him infiltrate the society and find where the surveillance tapes from the night Will died are being held. Caleb confronts Lucas back at his dorm room and warns Lucas not to go digging into what happened as the Skulls are always listening and watching, the rooms are bugged, and he is putting himself and even Chloe in danger. Caleb explains how it was an accident that Will fell and died.
Meanwhile, the Skulls Chairmen meet and Mandrake calls a vote to secretly remove Luke from the society by forcefully admitting him into one of their mental hospitals. The vote is defeated by Senator Levitt who feels the society is taking measures too drastic, but he is blackmailed by Mandrake into passing the vote. Chloe and Lucas stage a public scene at school so the Skulls will think they are no longer acquainted and Chloe will be safe. Back in Chloe’s room she admits to Luke that she loves him.
Then they have sex. So hold on. Oh never mind. There’s so much absurdity going on, you just kind of go with it. Nothing about the story so far makes much sense and the level of Skull pervasiveness is just ridiculous. That doesn’t change – they see that Will was alive after the fall, but the cops are complicit in Skull World Domination and Luke is put in a mental hospital and escapes and ends up in a duel with real guns with real bullets in broad daylight somewhere in New Haven with a bunch Skulls in tuxedos.
The Mandrakes die and Luke turns down the Senator’s offer and he walks off with Chloe. The end.
They went on to make a Skulls 2 and a Skulls 3. Paul Walker went on to be a huge star before his tragic death. Pacey went on to not being a big star. The director? Rob Cohen continues to make terrible movies. He has an odd view on his work on The Skulls. This is real:
The Skulls was a very intense set because I had in my mind that I was telling the story of George Senior and George W Bush. I had gone to Harvard that had the dining clubs but not the skull and bones, the secret societies. But I knew a lot about the secret societies, and I thought this is how the elite functions. This is how the elite knits together these bonds that take them through life and keep them in the elite heights of any society, and I was very excited about portraying that with Paul and Josh and all the cast.
To create this secret world of power elites… that was very exciting to me and I got the cast excited about that idea. It’s interesting how many of the critics missed this and didn’t understand it and blowed it off as silly. Skull and bones is a reality and the film got very close to how that reality works at Yale.
Ho. Lee. Stuff. My man thinks he nailed what Skull and Bones is? That they control New Haven PD to the point that they cover up murders and allow actual duels in town with no consequence? They the society has every room everywhere bugged and… on and one?
That quote is so nuts. This movie could “work” as a sort of overblown purposely ridiculous send-up of Ivy League secret societies. But as an attempt at reality? Without tongue firmly planted in cheek?
Wow. Just wow.
The actors aren’t bad at all and the Toronto campus looks great. And in the year 2000… the year of Skull and Bones legacy George W. Bush vs. Al Gore and the hanging chads and all that crap… this movie should have just been forgotten.
So let’s all do that now, shall we?
CTMQ Rating: 2 out of 5 thumbs up
Connecticutness: 45 out of 169 Nutmegs
Filmed in Connecticut? No
Wealthy Caucasian with a Big House? Yes