Mania Grade: B-
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- Reviewed Format: Theatrical Release
- Rated: PG-13
- Stars: Brittany Snow, Jonathon Schaech, Idris Elba, Scott Porter, Dana Davis
- Writer: J.S. Cardone
- Director: Nelson McCormick
- Distributor: Screen Gems/Sony
Teen drama medium, horror lite...
By Abbie Bernstein
April 12, 2008
Brittany Snow in PROM NIGHT (2008).
© Screen Gems
Although Prom Night borrows its title and overall premise from a 1980 film perhaps best remembered as another installment in Jamie Lee Curtis’ early career, what it resembles more than anything else is a network TV movie of that era. Screenwriter J.S. Cardone and director Nelson McCormick try so diligently to make a movie that works as something more than slasher fare that they wind up creating something rather peculiar – their Prom Night isn’t bad, but neither does it entirely work in any individual category.
We meet unfortunate high school student Donna (Brittany Snow) on the night an obsessed former teacher, Richard Fenton, murders Donna’s parents and little brother in an attempt to get to her. Fenton is arrested and locked away in a psychiatric hospital. Three years later, Donna still has nightmares but otherwise seems remarkably well-adjusted, living with her aunt and uncle in the same town. Donna, her boyfriend (Scott Porter) and four of their friends (Dana Davis, Collins Pennie, Jessica Stroup, Kelly Platz) embark on their prom night with the expected angst of anticipation, separation anxiety and a modicum of sexual desire. They’re unaware that Fenton has escaped from custody and, despite the best efforts of local law enforcement, has slipped into the hotel where the prom is being held.
One refreshing aspect of Prom NIght is that it moves along without any of the characters having to behave like morons. Indeed, the detective in charge of the case (the admirable Idris Elba) jumps on every detail as soon as it can reasonably be known. The banter between Donna and her posse sounds relatively natural and Schaech does a nice job as someone who is lethally fixated yet can pass as a civilian when need be.
Director McCormick livens things up a bit with some inventive editing, but either the strictures of the PG-13 rating or a misguided notion of tastefulness make many of the deaths implausibly tidy. Not only does almost instantaneous death result from stabbings that would result in either a very protracted demise, if not a non-fatal wound, but the killings are virtually bloodless, often without even punctures to clothing, let alone messy stains on the surroundings. One doesn’t have to be a gore hound to think this is squeamishness carried way too far, considering not only the film’s putative genre but simple plausibility.
Another issue is that, while the straight drama aspects are decent in themselves, with genuine characterization rather than cannon-fodder set-up, they feel like something one might find in episodes of a teen drama. Prom Night heads in the direction of trying to show what it might be like if the title event got interrupted by the actions of/search for a crazed killer. However, it’s not nearly realistic enough to work up the dread of, say, David Fincher’s Zodiac, while utterly lacking the chutzpah needed to let the villainous Fenton take major cinematic advantage of the potential chaos he’s creating. As a result, Prom Night rolls along on a middle ground, garnering no derisive laughs but few real shudders either.