Stoker Hills


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Stoker Hills
"“I can’t watch this anymore,” says a police officer, turning away from the found footage film, and you will sympathise." | Photo: 101 Films

Film students finding themselves in trouble has become a staple of the found footage genre – a convenient means of excusing higher quality work whilst preserving its vérité quality. Regardless of who is filming, what’s rare is for us to see what happens to the footage after it has been recorded. Stoker Hills is divided into two interwoven strands. One follows a group of students who run afoul of a serial killer whilst trying to create a cross between Pretty Woman and The Walking Dead. The other follows the police team who find their footage and try to find them – which, if they’re lucky, might happen whilst some of them are still alive.

This plot structure is, sadly, about as sophisticated as it gets in a film composed almost entirely of clichés. These are fitted together in bizarre ways. The lead detective dresses like something from the cover of a 1940s pulp novel and nobody bats an eyelid at it even though we’re plainly in the present day. The killer, named The Shadow (is he part of a franchise operation?) emerges from a muddle of mad scientist we-shouldn’t-mess-with-nature tropes, yet with none of the redeeming intelligence which usually accompanies these. The students don’t even get to have characters, though heroine Erica (Steffani Brass) is at least able to substitute prominently displayed breasts – and as she only dressed that way for a role, she gets to be wholesome at the same time. When she’s scared, she bounces around to no practical end and jiggles her wholesomeness at the camera. All this, and there’s a final twist which makes the end of Promising Young Woman look clever by comparison - one which you were almost certainly told not to use when writing stories in primary school.

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Then there’s the dialogue. “I’m so scared,” says Erica repeatedly, in case the jigggling failed to get the point across. “Her dad’s pretty upset,” says a police officer flatly, when it has been established that she has been kidnapped by a serial killer. Many of the lines seem to have been improvised by inexperienced actors, but there’s no resulting sense of naturalness. For large stretches of the film, characters simply repeat themselves with slightly different wording, padding out the runtime whilst waiting for something to happen. The killer seems to have no sense of urgency. The police literally stumble around in the dark when bringing in a couple of floodlights would make their jobs much easier (and make them less likely to inadvertently compromise the scene). Whenever peril is available, characters rush into it without summoning back-up, with predictable results. One might be able to justify some of this in light of the ending, but that doesn’t justify watching it.

“I can’t watch this anymore,” says a police officer, turning away from the found footage film, and you will sympathise. From its nonsensical motives to its twee moral overtones, Stoker Hills is desperately short on substance. Its characters are making a horror film just for the sake of it; its writer and director would appear to have done the same thing. They have adequate special effectsm make-up and a smoke machine, but that’s really not enough.

Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2022
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Stoker Hills packshot
Three college students filming a horror movie find themselves trapped in their own worst nightmare. Their only hope for survival is two detectives who find the camera they left behind.
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Director: Benjamin Louis

Writer: Jonah Kuehner

Starring: Tony Todd, Steffani Brass, David Gridley, Vince Hill-Bedford, William Lee Scott, Tyler Clark

Year: 2020

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: US


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