Written by: Adam Vaughn | January 13th, 2022
Stoker Hills (Benjamin Louis, 2020) 2 out of 4 stars.
January tends to be the prime release season for a slew of horror films, and riding this wave is Stoker Hills, the latest feature from director Benjamin Louis (State’s Evidence). Part mockumentary, part crime thriller, Stoker Hills utilizes all its cinematic conventions to attempt to deliver a unique variant on horror films, tampering with its own reality and leaving the audience wondering what happened. Unfortunately, the film loses major points for an unoriginal outcome and a complete drop in pacing once its exposition concludes. It also forgets its opening premise concept until the very last minute, at which point it is far too late to recover.
Stoker Hills begins with two college filmmakers, Ryan and Jake (David Gridley, Lady Driver, and Vince Hill-Bedford, American Fighter), pitching their final class project and setting out to create a “zombie-stripper” short, casting Jake’s girlfriend Erica (Steffani Brass, Reawakened) in the lead. Things go horribly wrong when a strange, hooded entity kidnaps Erica, forcing Ryan and Jake into dangerous pursuit to save their friend. As the three find themselves entrapped by the hooded menace, a pair of detectives, Stafford and Adams (William Lee Scott, The Brawler, and Eric Etebari, Alone) uses the filmmakers’ found-camera footage to track them, and the kidnapper, down.
The major issue with the movie is that, not even a half-hour into the story, director Louis abruptly transitions from the found footage to regular cinematic techniques. At first, this concept is wildly interesting, as the viewer witnesses both the perspective of the detectives (whilst they use the video as evidence and for leads), as well as the perspective of the shaky-cam footage and of Jake, Ryan, and Erica. After a while, though, the film style normalizes and becomes a clichéd mystery that has been explored in countless other films.
On top of this disappointment, Stoker Hills lacks intense pacing, a surprising plotline, and the cinematic shock needed to make it stand out from other genre fare. Sure, the film reveals some interesting character points for the inevitable killer, and the final scene of Stoker Hills surprises by finally revisiting its original premise. But at that point, the narrative momentum has already been lost, and the conclusion feels unearned in several inexplicable ways. While the film meets most criteria to be an adequate, thrilling adventure, Stoker Hills never rings original, much less memorable.