Sunday, May 18, 2008

Prom Night, or On Boys, Girls and Small Knives

Where have you gone, Kevin Williamson? A kid nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

First off, let’s big it up to Prom Night for marking another awkward, staggering step out of the pit marked “torture-porn”. It’s a decision doubtless motivated largely by financial pragmatism, but appreciated nonetheless.

For the tone of Prom Night is oddly anachronistic: a “remake” only in the sense that the film’s actions take place largely on the titular evening, the pic nonetheless plays like something harking back not just to a pre-Hostel era of suspense, but a pre-Scream presumption of near-nil audience savvy. In a genre so devoutly aware of expectation and subversion, this lazy attitude to viewer literacy (approximately half the pic’s scares rely on the hoary old “mirrored bathroom cabinet” schtick) does few favours with the old-fogey crowd of which your correspondent is a card-carrying member.

Which is good and well – pic is not aimed at 28-year-old Carol Clover fanboys, and more power to it – but if you’re going to trade in several decades’ worth of clever trope-playfulness, you’d better make sure what you’re running on instead is good and solid.

Which is the point at which Prom Night truly falters. The biggest problem – the one that will disappoint any viewer, be they fourteen or forty, aficionado or neophyte – is the unspeakable blandness of its central conflict.

Here’s a villain so instantly forgettable that he can brutally murder a family, terrify a school community, and be one vote away from the Death Penalty, and yet all the guy needs is to get a haircut and he becomes unrecognisable to police and ex-students alike. A guy who has motive for about ten minutes, before descending into standard DTV psycho-hokum; a bogeyman so unthreatening that his entire portrayal appears to have been shaped by watching Manhunter and Se7en and saying, “sure, I can do that”.

Equally, his quarry epitomises everything that horror outsiders hate about the Final Girl archetype: relentlessly mewling and inactive, poor Snow has absolutely nothing to do per se, just things to react to. And what’s disappointing is that the pic gives itself several opportunities to make her character interesting, hinting at a much less innocent, far more active role for her in the whole business, and resolutely refuses to follow through on them.

The movie ends up confused as to who its characters even are, and we walk out wondering why we were ever expected to care.

[appears edited at Flicks]

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