Stoker Hills gets down to business early, starting with a lecture on film by Professor Smith (Tony Todd, The Changed, Tales from the Hood 3). That gets the film’s celebrity cameo out of the way in the film’s first five minutes. It also uses those scenes to introduce the three of his students who will be the film’s leads, aspiring filmmakers Ryan (David Gridley, Team Kaylie, The Unhealer), Jake (Vince Hill-Bedford, American Fighter) and Erica (Steffani Brass, Reawakened, Six Feet Under).
While shooting their class project, a zombie hooker film entitled Streetwalkers, which was also Stoker Hills’ original title, a car drives by and stops just long enough to drag Erica in before racing off with Ryan and Jake in pursuit with their camera still running.
They don’t return but the camera is found and two of the town’s cops Adams (Eric Etebari, Never Leave Alive, Boss Level) and Stafford (William Lee Scott, Identity, Let Me Make You A Martyr) race to use the footage to rescue them, and hopefully catch the person responsible for a string of recent disappearances.
It may take a bit of effort to get through the first few minutes of Stoker Hills. Jake and Ryan are so annoying they make turning the film off seem like a viable option. Thankfully once things go south they get serious and much easier to put up with.
Writer Jonah Kuehner (Lab Rats: Bionic Island) and director Jonah Kuehner (State’s Evidence) take a different approach to found footage, one I don’t remember seeing before. Stoker Hills cuts back and forth between the footage as it’s being watched at the police station by one detective who’s in touch with the team in the field.
As a result, we don’t know who if they’re alive or dead ahead of time. So unlike most purely found footage films, Stoker Hills actually has a chance to build some mystery and suspense. And it does a good job of it as things progress and the scope of what’s going on becomes clearer. The fact that it involves Jakes’s ex, Danni (Tyler Clark, His Deadly Affair) and her father Dr. Jonathan Brooks (John Beasley, The Purge: Anarchy, Sinister 2) feels a little too coincidental though.
I also initially found the ideas at the center of the plot far-fetched, and a throwback to films from a much earlier time, until I did a little research. As the film says, it is an area of experimental surgery. The FDA even deals with it on their website. I was going to link to it, but I figured that might be a spoiler, look it up after you watch Stoker Hills, it’s interesting stuff.
Cinematographer John Orphan does a great job, bringing out every bit of atmosphere in the abandoned industrial buildings and dark, fog-enshrouded forest that makes up much of Stoker Hill’s setting. It looks great and along with the score by Roc Chen (The Wandering Earth) adds a lot to Stoker Hills’ effectiveness, especially in the tense final act.
An offbeat and enjoyable mix of found footage and conventional footage as well as a mix of horror, thriller and police procedural, Stoker Hills is certainly not the generic found footage slasher I expected when I sat down to watch it. Stoker Hills recently played the Popcorn Frights Film Festival and is currently looking for distribution. You can check for updates on the film’s website and Twitter feed.