Found-footage horror movies seem to be hit-or-miss more so than any other subgenre, often because they carry a stigma of being bad. That’s something Stoker Hills has to contend with, and for the most part, this new movie creates an interesting genre blend with bold narrative swings—some of which pay off and some of which don’t.
Part of the problem with found-footage movies is that, more often than not, they don’t bring anything new and meaningful to the genre. It becomes one of those “you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all” types of things, mainly because at some point you have to wonder why on earth your protagonist is still filming despite the fact they’re fighting for their lives. The genre invites a lot of burnout from fans.
Stoker Hills spoiler-free movie review
I happen to be someone who actually doesn’t mind found-footage. I think, when done right, they can be excellent and compelling films. After all these years, I still love The Blair Witch Project, and I quite enjoyed the latest installment in the Paranormal Activity franchise. So I was eager to see what Stoker Hills had in store, and for the most part, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the movie.
Directed by Benjamin Louis with a screenplay by Jonah Kuehner, Stoker Hills begins with a film class receiving a lecture from Professor Smith (played by horror legend Tony Todd). I wish we got to see more of Todd in the film, but it’s always nice to see him pop up, even if only for a few scenes. Our protagonists, Jake (Vince Hill-Bedford) and Ryan (David Gridley), are pretty conventional and irritating frat-type college students who plan to make a horror movie called Streetwalkers about zombie prostitutes. Yeah.
Jake’s girlfriend Erica (Steffani Brass), an aspiring actress with a full-ride to Julliard on the horizon, will be their leading actress. Unfortunately, not long after they start filming Erica out on the streets, she gets kidnapped, and the movie immediately kicks into high gear. The rest of the movie primarily consists of Jake and Ryan trying to chase Erica’s kidnapper and rescue her.
What helps set Stoker Hills apart is that the movie isn’t entirely found-footage. Jake and Ryan lose their camera at some point during the night, and it gets picked up by two detectives searching for an active serial killer. We start at the beginning of Jake and Ryan’s night, but then we later pick up with the detectives who are in the process of watching the footage the same way we are since it appears our unsuspecting students have gotten into the path of a brutal killer.
While the detectives are a little too on-the-nose cheesy noir for my tastes, I did appreciate that neat little twist. The parts of the film involving the cops are not found-footage at all, and it felt like the audience got to be part of Jake, and Ryan’s story as we follow along with the cops who are similarly watching, discovering, and chasing down leads based on what they find on the camera.
Stoker Hills slowly veers into camp territory—especially because of the detectives and their get-up. But, the movie takes itself a little bit to go all the way there. The middle noticeably starts to drag despite the movie’s relatively short 90-minute runtime, and I didn’t find many of the scares all that successful.
Still, I would say there are enough twists (even if you’ll probably see most of them coming from a mile away), action, and even some gore to keep fans appeased. It’s definitely a better movie than it has any right to be, especially as it ends up drawing you in despite the gimmicky premise. I had a lot of fun with Stoker Hills. It’s entertaining, even if it’s not always effective.
Stoker Hills is out now in theaters and on demand.