Prowl (2010)

The hunt is on.
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Prowl - The Hunt is On

Now here's an indie which pleasantly surprised me - in a sea of derivative and sloppy modern horror, PROWL (2010) stands out as a film with enough horror staples to feel familiar, but the skill to utilise these in an engaging way throughout. This means you get a sense of a filmmaking team who enjoy and understand genre film, without being indifferent or blasé about its quality.

Amber (Courtney Hope) is an eighteen year old girl desperate to get out of her dead-end job in the dead-end town of Famfield. It's her ambition to lease an apartment in Chicago and, when she's given the last-minute opportunity to finalise a rent agreement in the city, she enlists a group of her friends to drive her there. Their van breaks down almost immediately though, so they're forced to flag down a passing truck driver, who eventually agrees to give them a lift, on the condition that they don't interfere with the cargo of boxes he's carrying.

This all sounds rather tried-and-tested, and to an extent it is, but a believable group of friends with natural dialogue prevents it from being hackneyed, and PROWL tackles potential clichés straight on. For instance, before getting into the truck, the friends insist on photographing the driver and his vehicle for their own safety, thus laughingly dealing with the expectation that "something will go wrong". Things indeed go wrong, and they go wrong quickly as the friends in the back can't get hold of a member of their party riding up front, the truck being driven erratically, and then their friendly driver - Bernard - refuses to stop. The escalation of tension and the use of a confined space are handled nicely here, with believable panic from a sterling cast. This is the first indie horror I have watched in a long time where I wasn't almost immediately indifferent to the fate of the irritating teens/twentysomethings at the heart of the plot. Nope, the acting here is good and the characterisation decent. This is fundamental to being able to suspend disbelief for me, and meant that I could empathise with the group, and especially Amber.

When the truck finally stops, the group find themselves in what looks to be a disused slaughterhouse. At this stage - around thirty minutes in - it's still not clear where the film is going. We've had some flashbacks via Amber, but we aren't sure of our perpetrators, though things certainly aren't looking good. The film supplies the answer to this with some deft, bloody moves and a change of tack which kept me engaged. The violence - when it comes - is swift and brutal, as well as arbitrary, not slowly picking off members of the group but going for them ad hoc. Rapidly-shifting camera angles and the use of handheld cams give us a good sense of panic and uncertainty here. And, even if one of the plot developments is (at least to this hackneyed old film buff) a predictable one, it's still engaging. The pace is by and large great, although some of the cat-and-mouse sequences go on for too long, and PROWL looks really good - utilising a muted palette and low light, though retaining plenty of clarity.

PROWL might not revolutionise horror cinema, granted, but it sets the bar for indies a lot higher than it's been of late, showing us just what can be done with a good cast, just enough self-awareness, and decent direction. It's a compelling and skilful film which is well worth watching. It's not just that so much indie horror is lazy or ineffectual, though: this remains a good film in its own right which knows its limitations but gets the best out of them.
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