Teenager Amber (Courtney Hope) hates her small hometown. I mean, really, really hates it. She’s feeling so suffocated by the place that she’s starting to hallucinate blood and body parts and having flashes of monsters in her dreams. Fortunately for Amber, she’s got a cool little apartment and a fresh spanking new life waiting for her in Chicago — that is, if she can get there in a few days to claim them. To this end, Amber recruits her buddies, specifically BFF Suzy (Ruta Gedmintas) to get her to the Windy City. The rest of her friends come along for the ride, but after a brief trip in a van that subsequently breaks down, the friends are left stranded on the road. Enter helpful trucker Bernard (Bruce Payne), who offers the kids a lift since he’s going to Chicago anyway. Yeah, you probably shouldn’t accept rides from Bruce Payne. Haven’t these kids ever watched a single horror movie in their life?
Give “Prowl” this: Patrik Syversen (“Manhunt”) has made a nice little horror movie. Tim Tori’s script plays out like some indie drama for the first 20 minutes or so, with only those brief bloody flashes by Amber to remind you that Yes, you’re actually watching a horror movie that’s only setting up the premise. Once things start cooking, and the kids find themselves dumped unceremoniously into an abandoned slaughterhouse in the middle of nowhere by trucker Bernard, things get bloody real, real fast. In short order, the kids are picked off one by one, eventually leaving only BFFs Suzy and Amber to make a run for it. The culprits? Vampires. Yes, vampires. A feeding nest of vampires, to be more specific, led by their “mother” Veronica (Saxon Trainor).
For a film of its type, “Prowl” boasts a stronger cast than I was expecting. Courtney Hope gamely carries the film from its faux indie drama mood in the beginning to the bloody escapades in the second half. Everyone with a line in the film easily holds up their end, which, let me assure you, is quite a rarity in the genre today. Ruta Gedmintas is particularly good as the loyal best friend, with Bruce Payne providing some genre creds. Most of the young actors do a reasonably good job, and the script by Tim Tori deserves special mention. To be sure, teenagers who do nothing but smoke dope and drink and have sex is as generic as they come in horror movies, but at least once the shit hits the fan, these kids act in a (mostly) logical manner. It’s too bad that ain’t gonna save them from the film’s fast-moving, wall-scaling vampires, though.
“Prowl” is directed by Norwegian Patrik Syversen, here making his English-language debut. He does a nice job with what was probably a very limited budget, though I suspect he could have produced a much better movie if the film had eschewed much of its “flying vampires” element. (More on that in the next paragraph.) “Prowl” is an effective horror movie, and Syversen drops in plenty of hints to the film’s Big Reveal so that when it comes, it’s not so much out of left field. And if cinematic motifs were your cup of tea, you’ll appreciate lead Courtney Hope’s constantly running state. The girl is running everywhere in the movie — running from her life, from her town, from her friends, from her past — and finally, from vampire creatures determined to eat her.
I got a couple of bones to pick with “Prowl”, though. There’s a great scene in the film where the female lead is walking through a warehouse and you see the fledgling vampires scurrying about in the shadows stalking her. They’re moving so fast (but not CG/wireworks-assisted fast) that she doesn’t notice them. If Tori and Syversen had kept the vampires this way, it might have made for more effective creatures, especially because the film’s wireworks are so iffy. (Okay, not so much “iffy” as just really, really badly done.) When the vampires leap around, scale walls, or in some cases, literally glide through the air, they are so obviously being hung from ropes that it screams phony. I’ll grant you that it’s hard (and even a little silly) to make a case for “realism” in a vampire/horror movie, but if you really wanted to make the creatures even a little bit more believable, there’s really no reason why they gotta be flying around and growling. The latter is made even more absurd when, at one point, one of the creatures is captured and, well, starts talking in a perfectly normal voice. So, uh, what’s with all the growling before then, chum?
But don’t let those nitpicks put you off “Prowl”. As one of After Dark’s current slate of original horror films (though they’ve since expanded to sci-fi, too, with the likes of “51”), it’s probably the best of this year’s bunch. Mind you, I still have quite a number of titles to go through, but for now, “Prowl” has to rank as the top After Dark film of 2011. Be warned, though: the film doesn’t actually have what you would consider a “legitimate” ending. In fact, at just around 80 minutes, “Prowl” ends rather abruptly, and feels like a movie in search of a sequel.
“Prowl” is now available on DVD from Lionsgate.
Patrik Syversen (director) / Tim Tori (screenplay)
CAST: Ruta Gedmintas … Suzy
Joshua Bowman … Peter
Courtney Hope … Amber
Bruce Payne … Bernard
Jamie Blackley … Ray
George Oliver … Runt
Atanas Srebrev … Max
Saxon Trainor … Veronica
Perdita Weeks … Fiona