'Stoker Hills' review: Found footage horror slog should have stayed buried
Courtesy of Screen Media
“Stoker Hills” seems four or five years late to the party. A found footage horror endeavor that comes at a moment where the latest entry in the uber successful “Paranormal Activity” franchise doesn’t even get theatrically released despite the low-budget series generating millions of dollars for the studio. 10 years ago, “Stoker Hills” would have seen a major release and made some coin, but the shifting dynamics of audiences' taste and the fractured movie theater landscape sees “Stoker Hills” landing on VOD with a whimper. To its credit, “Stoker Hills” tries tinkering the “found footage” formula (it thankfully doesn’t have as abrupt a finale as “The Devil Inside”) brandishing an interesting framing device, but everything that builds up to those final moments (including a groan inducing “twist” ending) won’t leave slasher fans thrilled they pressed play on “Stoker Hills.”
The film begins in a lecture hall where a college professor, played by top-billed Tony Todd for all of seven minutes, listens to his students pitch their forthcoming short film projects. Enter Erica, Ryan, and Jake played by Steffanie Brass, David Gridley, and Vince Hill-Bedford respectively, three generically written students with no personality and who’s plans of filming their “Pretty Woman/Dawn of the Dawn” hybrid hit a snag when Erica gets abducted by a dark cloaked figure in a sports car and the boys chase after her. Leading them to abandoned industrial complexes and the chilly wilderness.
As the camera is giving the viewer more whiplash than “Cloverfield,” director Benjamin Louis and writer Jonah Kuehner switch gears to the POV of Detectives Bill Stafford (William Lee Scott) and Adams (Eric Etebari) who find the students’ ditched camera and try to pinpoint the whereabouts of the hooded man. The angle presents the most inspired choice in the film yet the characterizations of the three leads and the buffoonish detectives struggled to keep me invested. The film also can’t land on a precise meta/self-aware tone as it wants to be taken seriously while winking at the camera.
The entirety of “Stoker Hills” lacks notable ambition as the climax feels hastily put together and overall relies on gimmickry troupes to limp across the finish line. Though I admired some of the practical effects, “Stoker Hills” will have trouble standing out from the wealth of streaming options already available, not to mention having Tony Todd’s name above the title, when the actor has approximately two scenes, is probably the biggest misdirect in the film. His paycheck for a day’s work probably sucked up a good chunk of the budget, which you can tell left the filmmakers scraps for the remaining 80-minutes he wasn’t on screen.
STOKER HILLS is now available on digital/VOD.