Dir: Nelson McCormick. US. 2008. 88mins.
One of the most memorable nights in a teenager's young life is grist for a pretty unmemorable movie in Prom Night, a tame horror entry that follows conventions to the letter. Though besting opening-weekend expectations, the film fails to offer many thrills as its attractive cast glumly plays hide-and-go-seek with a humdrum knife-wielding psycho.
Opening in the US over the weekend without press screenings, this Screen Gems release topped the box office with an estimated $23m. Already in 2008 there have been a handful of PG-13 horror films starring young women squaring off against supernatural or corporeal terrors. Jessica Alba's The Eye captured more than $31m, and Shannyn Sossamon's One Missed Call grossed just under $27m. Prom Night's opening weekend surpassed both of those films', and with little horror competition in the marketplace, it should better their overall totals as well, despite boasting less star power than either.
Prom Night will roll out across most of the globe in May, but foreign territories have been less susceptible to the charms of American-made horror remakes. (Prom Night is very loosely based on the 1980 film of the same name starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Leslie Nielsen.) One Missed Call, The Eye, and the 2007 redo of a lesser-known horror property, The Hitcher, have only generated about 30 percent of their revenue overseas, and it's a reasonable guess that Prom Night will perform about the same. Because of its paucity of outright gore or offensive language, the film should translate to cable outlets relatively intact, but its DVD shelf life seems extremely limited.
Three years removed from the emotional trauma of watching her family murdered by a deranged teacher named Richard (Schaech) who was obsessed with her, Donna (Snow) is going to her senior prom with her devoted boyfriend (Porter). But when Richard escapes from prison, he makes a beeline to the elegant hotel where Donna's big dance is happening, killing all those in his path until he can be with her.
As opposed to R-rated horror films such as the Saw series, Prom Night values old-fashioned suspense over simple gore. (There's more exposed cleavage than blood in this PG-13 offering.) And with veteran TV-drama director Nelson McCormick (Nip/Tuck, ER) making his feature debut, there is at least the hope that the film will attempt to be a more sophisticated cat-and-mouse thriller than a standard shocker. But in the place of grotesque torture scenes or creepy Asian-horror atmospherics, McCormick opts for a streamlined execution that's never showy but also isn't very terrifying.
JS Cardone's programmatic screenplay requires that Richard first kill several of Donna's friends before the anticipated showdown with her can occur, which creates a feeling of endless waiting as McCormick stages overly orchestrated slayings of the supporting characters in the hotel. In terms of emotional subtext, tepid attempts at capturing the mindset of senior prom - a hormone-filled evening tempered with the knowledge that lifelong friends will soon be going their separate ways to far-flung colleges - are handled in stiff, obligatory ways, as is the film's dim psychological construction of its villain. Indeed, Richard resembles so many cinematic killers who are mentally unhinged regular people somehow blessed with the ability to evade teams of policemen and miraculously anticipate their victims' every move.
Teen horror films are usually populated with wholesome TV actors on teen-themed shows trying to establish a beachhead in the theatrical world, landing roles that might boost their visibility but certainly don't present a great forum to show off their dramatic chops. With that said, though, the young cast is mostly solid, possibly assisted by McCormick's experience with actors. Brittany Snow doesn't overdo Donna's tormented past, although she doesn't possess a gripping-enough presence to make her a compelling figure. As her hunky boyfriend, Scott Porter displays notable charisma and depth.
The best performance comes from the older Idris Elba, an alumnus of The Wire, who plays a smart, no-nonsense cop determined to protect Donna. Johnathon Schaech speaks in hushed tones and gives off generally bad vibes, but his creepiest quality is how much he looks like a cross between Timothy Olyphant and Peter Gallagher.
Original Film (US)
Newmarket Films (US)
Alliance Films (US)
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Glenn S Gainor
Chris J Ball
Neal H Moritz
Director of photography
Jon Gary Steele