(Originally an IP Movies Review)
Film critics are a finicky bunch that, like most moviegoers, have pet peeves which drive them up a wall. Some critics hate conservative messages in film, while scoff at anything with Russell Brand. Personally, I cannot stand when filmmakers choose to use the “shaky cam” technique when it isn’t necessary. It’s one thing for found footage films like Cloverfield or REC (the original, and excellent version of America’s Quarantine) to use this because it makes sense to the plot, but why do independent filmmakers like Prowl’s Patrik Syversen think it makes sense to use this nauseating technique in traditionally filmed movies? In fact, most of Syversen’s directorial choices degraded Prowl from a decent movie, to another After Dark Originals mess.
Courtney Hope plays Amber, a small-town girl that wants nothing more than to move to Chicago. When she finds an apartment, the landlord tells her she has 24-hours to pay the deposit in cash, or the room goes to another renter. She convinces five of her friends to join her on the trip. On the way, just outside of the small-town, the van they’re driving breaks down. A trucker happens by them, and, after some coaxing, agrees to take the six kids to Chicago, where he is headed.
Six friends, one stranger in the form of a truck driver, and a long drive across the interstate; what could possibly go wrong?
Anyone who has ever watched a horror movie has a good idea about what’s coming next: the truck driver refuses to stop for the group, even after pleading. When he finally does stop, the kids find themselves in an abandoned warehouse filled with bloodthirsty creatures intent on destroying Amber’s chances at that apartment in the Windy City.
Prowl is one of the more disappointing horror films I’ve seen recently because it actually has a solid, intriguing story that is marred by poor storytelling. Rarely do I watch a film and think “wow, this is terrible editing”, but that’s what was happening through the entirety of Prowl. Editor Celia Haining makes Prowl the story of how many quick cuts and jump cuts someone can jam into one five-minute scene instead of the story about a young girl finding herself through hardships that (screenwriter) Tim Tori wrote. Not only are all these edits jarring to the audience, they jumble the story and rob the viewer of the action. Instead of seeing many of the kills – which happen at an extremely quick rate – we see the victim dragged away, quick cut to the creatures eating his or her flesh for less than a second, and then back to the main character. There isn’t a lack of blood, but because we don’t see the victim getting destroyed for more than a split second thanks to the editing, the blood is fruitless and vain.
The other major defect of Prowl comes in the form of my pet peeve mentioned earlier: the shaky cam. Though the usage of this technique wasn’t as bad as Stag Night, it was enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the film. When Amber takes her drunken mother upstairs to bed, the camera shakes as Amber simply sits on the bed. The shaky camera doesn’t give the viewer a deeper understanding of Amber, or her emotional state, nor does it add to the “action” of her sitting. The only thing it succeeds in doing is making me – the viewer – work harder to understand what I’m seeing. The same can be said for later in the film when this technique is used more: it hurts the film by making it nigh impossible for the viewer to get a clear image of the onscreen action. Where the director wants me to look is completely lost, and thus, the movie becomes confusing and difficult to watch. If this is what the director is going for, power to him, but the end result is merely a tainting of a potentially strong story.
These qualms are picky, but they negatively effect so much of Prowl that it would be irresponsible of me not to mention them. If Prowl was directed by someone with more experience, I imagine that different choices would have been made to better tell this story. It’s also fair to say that if audiences were caught up in the character’s stories, then the qualms above would be forgivable. Unfortunately the script isn’t strong enough to overcome these problems because it suffers from the thing that typically plagues horror movies: weak character development. Amber is a deep enough character, but not one of her five friends are memorable. If audiences can’t remember how one of the supporting characters has died in a horror film, the writer and director haven’t done enough work with his or her characters.
Prowl reeks of a film with great ideas and terrible execution. The acting is above average for a horror film, but this means little because the story is being told so poorly. The first and last job of a director is to make sure the story he or she is telling is clear. Prowl misses this point completely, making this another After Dark horror film that seems to exist merely to use some cool blood effects.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.