Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 4, 2022)
Given that the title sounds like an homage to the author of Dracula, should one expect 2021’s Stoker Hills to offer a vampire tale? Nope – while a horror project, it avoids that particular genre.
College students Ryan (David Gridley), Erica (Steffani Brass), and Jake (Vince Hill-Bedford) study cinema. They band together to create their own movie as a class project.
This goes wrong and they end up abducted by a stranger. Detectives Adams (Eric Etebari) and Stafford (William Lee Scott) find a camera the students left behind, and this becomes the victims’ only hope of survival.
Though Stoker Hills may not link its title to the vampire genre, it does seem like a clear “Easter egg” as a link to horror period. The movie comes with other winks in this manner as well.
None of these feel like anything more than windowdressing. Hills really exists as an attempt to revive the “found footage” genre, albeit with a twist.
The shift comes from the use of the cops as a framing device. Most “found footage” films just focus on that material without cuts to other perspectives.
This holds true for the first part of Hills, as we stick exclusively with the first-person camera for a while. Once the abduction takes place, however, we sporadically cut to detectives as they investigate.
In theory, this could create an intriguing way to tell the story. In reality, it ends up as a mess.
Really, the framework ensures that Hills just feels half-baked. It comes across like the filmmakers lacked the ability to create one fully-fleshed-out flick so they combined two different concepts into one.
In competent hands, Hills could create a brisk, bracing mix of the two sides that adds life to the genre. Instead, the end product just feels like two poorly-made movies clumsily blended into one.
Neither half of Hills succeeds. The “found footage” part just comes with the usual clichés and seems like little more than a lot of running and screaming.
The “investigation” scenes don’t work any better. They feel stiff and unconvincing, almost like a parody of bad cop movies.
Unfortunately, I get no impression the filmmakers intended to spoof either genre. I feel pretty sure they want us to take Hills seriously and view it as both a scary horror tale and a taunt thriller.
Again, perhaps more talented folks could pull off this feat. I think a movie with this one’s ambitions definitely could satisfy in both regards.
Those people didn’t work on Hills, though. Throw in a goofy “shock ending” and virtually every aspect of the production feels flat and amateurish.
Even with the low expectations I bring into low-budget flicks of this sort, Hills bombed. This became a dull, silly project with few discernible positives.