Terror on the Prairie opens with a gang of outlaws, Long Hair (Tyler Fischer, Jr Lab Ratz, Giving Up), The Kid (Gabriel Kane Day-Lewis, Adolphe), and Gold Tooth (Heath Freeman, Dark Was the Night, The Seventh Day) beating a man. Their leader, Captain Miller, or simply The Captain (Nick Searcy, The Shape of Water, The Assassination of Richard Nixon) reads from the bible as they do, then joins in the violence and scalps their victim.
Elsewhere Jeb (Donald Cerrone, The Commando, Copshop) and Hattie McAllister (Gina Carano, Scorched Earth, The Mandalorian) are struggling to feed themselves and their family. She’s had enough and wants to go back to St. Louis, he decides to go into town to get supplies and look for work leaving her, Will (Rhys Becker) and their infant daughter Beth alone. He’s barely gone when The Captain and his men show up.
Director Michael Polish (Big Sur, Force of Nature) and writer Josiah Nelson (Dirty Little Deeds) set up a situation that’s not that much different from The Daily Wire’s previous film Shut In. A woman on her own has to protect herself and her young children from a violent home invasion.
Before the siege begins we get the usual character build-up, Hattie married Jeb and came west over her wealthy family’s objections, we see how capable and kind she is when she helps a band of Native Americans one of whom needs medical attention. She’s even hospitable to The Captain and his men until she sees the scalps hanging from his saddle. We also get two big clues as to why they’re there to begin with. Because it isn’t merely a coincidence.
Most of Terror on the Prairie’s second act is talk punctuated by attacks on Hattie’s cabin which, despite being a lousy shot, she manages to repel. The action is staged adequately but with little real flair. We do get the rather bloody demise of Mr. Samuelson (Matthias Hues, I Come in Peace, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich) neighbour who comes by at the wrong time to add a little variety to the proceedings.
Terror on the Prairie is billed as a western thriller rather than an action film and the film’s siege-like midsection does live up to that description. There’s just way too much downtime between the attacks to keep the tension elevated.
It also doesn’t help that despite his prominent billing, Cerrone is barely in the film. He heads to town in the first act and doesn’t show up again until the last twenty of Terror on the Prairie’s hundred and seven minutes and only actually gets to fight in the last ten. And while Carano is in almost every scene of the film, she uses a gun, or a knife, rather than her fists and feet.
And it’s those fighting skills that set Carano apart from any number of actresses who look convincingly tough and can use a gun. She wasn’t a particularly good actress in Scorched Earth and four years later she doesn’t show much improvement. Apart from Searcy and Hues, who has about five minutes of screen time, the cast is mostly composed of unknowns and they’re likely to stay that way.
When all is said and done, Terror on the Prairie is a watchable but forgettable film. It has its moments but they’re lost in a sea of blandness. I’d heard the film was brutal in its depiction of violence but it’s pretty much PG-13 material. Even the scalping looks like a latex appliance being pulled back, not the Maniac-inspired bit of mayhem all the talk had me expecting.
Terror on the Prairie is currently available to subscribers to The Daily Wire website. I haven’t heard when, or if, it will be legitimately available elsewhere. You can check with JustWatch to see if it becomes available and with FilmTagger for suggestions on what to watch while you wait.