Film School Horror Project Gets Interrupted by Killer in Generic Stoker Hills (2022)
Title: Stoker Hills
First Non-Festival Release: January 14, 2022 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Benjamin Louis
Writer: Jonah Kuehner
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Starring: Steffani Brass, David Gridley, Eric Etbari, Tony Todd
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
College students Erica (Steffani Brass), Ryan (David Gridley), and Jake (Vince Hill-Bedford) set out to make a horror film for their class project. Once out in the night, their cameras roll and not long after Erica is abducted by a faceless driver. The teens race after her and square up with the kidnapper at an abandoned compound. Soon, detectives Stafford (William Lee Scott) and Adams (Eric Etbari) find their footage. Realizing that they are running low on time, they work to re-trace their steps and solve the mystery of a bizarre puzzle that’s led to multiple missing persons reports in their sleepy town.
A baffling ending wrecks whatever goodwill Stoker Hills builds in this middling found footage horror film.
The story tries to avoid typical found footage failures but doesn’t seem to understand when to employ them. It’s refreshing to see a film ditch the camera halfway through and balance multiple mediums but the way they do this just doesn’t work. The two detectives work through all the video, and one assumes they do it in one go. For some reason, they backtrack over the narrative to play a piece of footage that is new to the audience, but presumably not to them, of one of the teenagers giving a tearful speech in the woods to the camera. Moments like this take the viewer out of the film. What do gain from a narrative sense from this moment now instead of during the action when it happened? It reveals nothing except exploring the depth of one of its characters. That’s fine to do; but the way it is implemented is clunky.
Clunky is the best word to describe Stoker Hills. The acting, aside from the great Tony Todd’s brief appearances, is rough. The teenagers are largely unconvincing in their torment, particularly Brass’s Erica and Tyler Clark’s Dani. Additionally, all four of the teenager characters involved fall victim to the lifeless archetypes they must embody. There’s very little meaning beyond one or two characteristics that make them seem unreal. In a way, this makes sense given the setup, but it should not excuse it from the real-world viewers. The detectives make this even worse, with the most ham-fisted delivery going to William Lee Scott’s Detective Stafford. It’s so rough, that the entire film he feels suspect enough to pin the murders on him.
The script is full of moments that don’t quite add up and contribute to an overall lackluster approach to horror. For every moment that makes sense, there’s at least one or two more that do not. Certain measures are taken to artificially lengthen the mystery. This involves banal things like documentation, administrative measures, and the sort, which go against the film’s credibility. Again, given the full story, it makes sense why these sort of things are neglected, but it shouldn’t be a pass for something of this nature.
It’s not all bad, however, as it does get several things right. Many complain about found footage films and the shaky cam implemented in them. Stoker Hills looks realistic in this regard, minus the moments where it fragments and loses time. It gets the audience in the moment and ready to be terrified of whatever figure is lurking in the dark. Speaking of which, ‘The Shadow’ is great in concept and works for the first two thirds of the film. In fact, I found myself guessing a very different film based on the information the audience is fed. I can laud the film’s efforts for being specific enough to lead with credible clues on the mystery while still being generic enough to throw the audience off its scent. This does come crashing down at the very end, but for the 87 minutes or so it is done, it is done well!
At times an effective and even exciting film, is flattened with its desire to circumvent the audience’s expectations. A brutal exercise in slash-and-dash found footage horror, Stoker Hills offers plenty of visceral moments of terror that naturally arise in the shaky cam arena of horror. Unfortunately, paper thin characters, trite dialogue, and the most irritating final thirty second finale I’ve seen in the last year make this one hard to recommend. Film school projects can be killer, and Stoker Hills ensures that they remain dead in the ground for as long as possible.
Overall Score? 5/10