This mostly bloodless horror movie has a pretty good twist.
With a title like ‘Stoker Hills,’ you might be expecting a vampire tale akin to the classic Stephen King horror Salem’s Lot. Unfortunately, there isn’t a fang-toothed menace in sight in this new release, so fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and similar works of literature and film are going to be disappointed.
This isn’t to say Stoker Hills isn’t worth watching though. It’s far from perfect and the budgetary constraints of this horror movie are sometimes obvious. But thanks to a twist at the end, what comes before it is made palatable, even if the bulk of the story is similar to what you have seen before.
The film is set in the quiet, isolated town of Stoker Hills (hence the title) and it focuses on Ryan, Erica, and Jake, three young film students who set out to make a movie that is a cross between Pretty Woman and The Walking Dead. The concept of their film is certainly wacky but when Erica is abducted while making it, they (and we) never see it through to the end.
What follows next is mostly predictable as Ryan and Jake set out to find Erica and rescue her from whatever fate the abductor has in store for her. After exploring nearby woodlands, the two eventually come across an abandoned building, and they step inside to find dead bodies and some kind of medical device.
Unsurprisingly, these are connected to the person who took Erica but why he took her and why he has stolen hospital equipment are questions that aren’t answered until much later in the film.
The first thirty minutes are quite disorientating as everything is filmed through the lens of a mobile phone carried by one of the film’s protagonists. As such, the early scenes are quite hard to watch due to the shakiness of the cam. If you felt queasy watching Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project, you might want to have a sick bag at your side if you choose to watch this film.
When Ryan and Jake fall foul of the hooded menace that is behind Erica’s abduction, the film changes focus, literally, as the phone is dropped and a more traditional camera setup takes precedence.
As this is a film that initially sits within the found footage genre, the scenes captured by the phone are discovered by two police detectives. They use this to investigate the disappearance of the students and their search eventually leads them to a doctor accused of medical malpractice and a serial killer that is behind a recent spate of murders in the town.
The cast is largely made up of unknowns although Candyman star Tony Todd has a small part as a film professor and veteran actor John Beasley (The Sum Of All Fears, The Mandalorian) takes on the role of the aforementioned doctor. They both deliver fine performances, and the rest of the actors, for the most part, do a pretty good job too.
The story rarely makes much sense and clichés are abound. However, the atmosphere is sometimes spooky, especially during scenes where the police journey through the misty woods, flashlights in hand, to find the missing students. This does much to maintain interest in the film, which is a good thing, as the heavy-handedness of the dialogue might make you cringe and roll your eyes while watching.
So, what we have here is a run-of-the-mill serial killer flick, albeit one that fails to offer much explanation for the killer’s motives. Needless to say, this is no Seven or The Silence of the Lambs but for a low budget movie, it isn’t all bad. You will probably root for the students as they battle to escape the clutches of the killer and you might appreciate the tongue in cheek nature of the script.
If you’re looking for a horror movie, you are spoiled for choice, and there are those in the genre that are far far better than this one. But if you can see past the low production values and steady your expectations, this isn’t a complete waste of time.
And as mentioned at the beginning, Stoker Hills does contain a twist, so while the story is mostly predictable throughout the 90-minute running time, the ending might genuinely surprise you. This might not be enough to warrant a re-watch but there is still some enjoyment to be had while watching this occasionally silly and formulaic movie.
Verdict - 5/10