On paper, Prowl may be a vampire film, but 95% of its DNA is that of your average modern “trapped teens” horror flick. You know, those slasher films where a bunch of teenagers end up in an isolated place from which it is extremely difficult to escape. That happens either by choice (“let’s go to that really cool cabin/island/cave”), or by accident (“we are out of gas” / “our GPS malfunctioned” / “our car broke down”), or by design (kidnapping, etc.), and the isolation is usually not only limited to geography, but extends to communication (no land lines, no cell phone connection, no GPS, etc.). The group usually consists of teenagers with different personalities, each representing a stock character (the jock, the geek, etc.), and it is common that some nudity is in the mix, as well as some hints at some drug use as well as some sexual relations (past, present, or future). The teenagers soon discover that they are not alone but that there is something evil out there, the precise nature of which is the choice of the writer or the studio, depending on what creepy-crawly is currently best suited for selling tickets or DVDs. Genre tropes then demand that most of the teenagers are killed (not simultaneously, but one by one over the course of the film); usually only one survives. Of course – as per another popular genre trope – although the survivor manages to get to safety (or get back home), some hint is dropped at the evil not having been entirely defeated after all. You all know these scenes: a hand clawing its way out of a shallow grave just half a second before the end credits, etc.
As I said, Prowl pretty much falls into this genre category of teen slasher horror:
A bunch of teenagers want to go on a road trip to Chicago, but in the end find themselves locked up in an isolated warehouse. But they are not alone… (please feel free to add your own scary background music to my ellipsis).
There is some nice symbolism in this film. While there is no denying that this is a pretty average teen slasher B-movie with a limited budget, it has faint echoes of a coming-of-age story: finding out who you are or where your place in the world is, etc. In particular, in this case, it is about leaving your old life behind. Our teenagers want to go to Chicago to escape their dull life in their boring home town where they feel trapped. And, fittingly, they have trouble leaving, because one of their cars is broken, one has been impounded, and one has a wheel clamp. It is as if they actually were trapped in that town. And when they finally get a car, that car breaks down the moment they reach their home town’s boundaries. “I think I can see my house from here”, one of the characters says. It is as if the town does not want them to leave.
That symbolism gets, of course, both overshadowed and inverted later, when they are in fact trapped.
So, for Prowl, the filmmakers decided to select vampires as their lurking evil. In terms of sales that may have made sense. In 2010 we were right in the middle of the Twilight/True Blood/Vampire Diaries trifecta, and the term “vampire” alone seemed to promise commercial success. In this case, our vampires seem to be defined as a stronger, faster human sub-species rather than something supernatural, but I am just guessing here; you never get a full “scientific” explanation in this film. At any rate, there are no traditional Gothic influences on the film’s setting or visual style, nothing mythological, nothing ancient.
By combining the traditional “trapped teens” trope with the vampire genre, the filmmakers painted themselves into a bit of a corner. Because naturally you would expect vampires (especially when they have superior numbers and strength) to simply kill all their victims and feed on them. No real need to drag this out over an extended period of time. Sure, they seem to explain why the vampires in this film have chosen that rather complicated scenario, but that explanation is not exactly convincing or satisfying. That said, a few small to medium-sized plot-holes seem to be the standard in this kind of film, and Prowl makes no exception.
There is not much else to tell about the general scenario and the plot, as I want to avoid spoilers. And there is little to say about the design. Since this story is set in a contemporary, “real” environment, everything is quite simple and therefore probably budget-friendly (it was shot in Bulgaria, after all): the wardrobe consists of everyday street clothes, and the sets are limited to everyday locations and for the second act to a labyrinthian warehouse/abattoir. In fact, the location scouts found a very nice place here, because its labyrinthian qualities are not limited to the ground level layout: thanks to an enormous height with lots of railings and see-through external stairwells, as well as other assorted nooks and crannies (vertical as well as horizontal), this place is a 3-dimensional labyrinth, and the director makes rather clever use of it. Most of the second and third act take place in near darkness, which gives the majority of these acts almost a black&white aesthetic. All of this is pretty effective and succeeds in creating the atmosphere the filmmakers are aiming for, the bleak atmosphere of the “trapped teens” slasher sub-genre. For me, however, all the darkness and bleakness started to flow into a giant mush, and to diminish the generally very good achievements of cinematographer Håvard Andre Byrkjeland, but that is probably a question of taste, and also a question of how big your TV screen is or how good it deals with darkness.
The film, however, is not content with just going for your standard “trapped-teens” look, it attempts a bit more than that, particularly in the first act. The fact that one of the teens is working in a butcher’s shop gives the director some leeway to introduce the theme of blood early on in the film and to foreshadow the coming abattoir setting. There is also a fair bit of blood and gore in the second and third act, but some of it looks like there was not that much effort put into it as it was not the main hook of this film. There are also few real fight scenes of any kind. Not even bad fight scenes. Struggles, yes, but no real fights. These teenagers are simply being picked off one-by-one.
As I said, I enjoyed the way in which in the first act they played a bit with the fact that the teenagers seem to be unable to get out of their hometown. The film then gets rather conventional rather quickly. I found the transition from the first into the second act a bit weak; and what happens in the second and third act are the usual teenagers-getting-killed-but-not-all-of-them scenes that we know from this particular sub-genre. In the end, however, the film manages to keep some minor twists, turns, and variations up its sleeve, so while most of this film is of the “I have seen this before” variety, it still keeps you entertained, not bored. However, it seems that between their nice stylistic and symbolic elements in the first act and the twists they were aiming for in the third the writer and the director forgot to fill the second act with much life. As I said, the genre-typical gore is somewhat half-hearted and there are no fight scenes. And a lot of stuff happens too fast for the characters to actually get much of a reaction from them. What we have got in the second act is chiefly lots of running around, mostly aimlessly. Therefore it seems to me that (particularly for fans of this genre) the second act is perhaps a bit empty?
Still, although (or maybe because) I am not at all a fan of the “trapped teens” sub-genre (as I am not even a particular fan of most horror in general), the film kind of manages to somewhat redeem itself in the third act. Partially through certain decisions by the writer, Tim Tori, but also in part because of the achievements of the very well chosen cast (courtesy of casting directors Sue Jones, Sally Lear, and Mark Teschner).
Probably due to the film being shot in Bulgaria, the majority of the cast is British, even though the story takes place in the American Mid West. The UK has a very large pool of talent to pick from, and although some of the teenagers have too little screen time to allow much judgement about the achievements of each individual actor, generally speaking they give a very strong performance. The actors playing the teenagers include Perdita Weeks, Josh Bowman, Ruta Gedmintas (The Strain), Courtney Hope, and Jamie Blackley.
The protagonists may be stock characters, but since they are being so competently portrayed the actors manage to still bring them across as believable, real-life characters. And I guess some credit for that should also go to the film’s Norwegian director, Patrik Syversen.
The achievements of the teenage group are flanked by great supporting performances by veteran character actors Bruce Payne and Saxon Trainor.
When it comes to rating this film, I am at a bit of a loss. I am no fan of gore and I am certainly no fan of teen slasher films. So my points of reference for this film may be off. But in my opinion, Prowl is a very solid film for what is basically constructed as a run-of-the-mill teen-slasher B-movie. Not that it is something amazing which people will talk about for years to come. But you can tell that the writer and the director put some extra thought into this project and tried (and succeeded) to deliver the best possible result within the narrow limits of the genre and the constraints of their probably restricted budget. And the actors also contribute to elevating this film beyond the usual dim of the genre.
So, I guess this is roughly a 5 out of 10? As I said, not my genre, but this film certainly makes the effort to stand out from the crowd of mediocre cash-grab teen horror flicks.