Prom Night's life-size theater-promotion cardboard standee of a door, strategically placed to pique interest for this teen thriller, is a good indication of how much effort went into this movie. When I opened the door it only produced a halfhearted, single scream. The teenagers walking by when I did this looked surprised and laughed. Even they were expecting something a bit more slasher-scream-full.
When I watched the movie, I found boredom made my mind wander a bit when Donna (Brittany Snow) and her boyfriend, Bobby (Scott Porter) exchange corsages as Donna's aunt and uncle look on, beaming with happiness. I imagined a prom night filled with monster corsages devouring boyfriends, Carrie-like J-horror prom nights stalked by ghosts seeking vengeance, or maybe even tuxedoed zombies crashing the prom night party; anything else but this unnecessary reworking of Jamie Lee Curtis' more violent and relevant 80s slasher. I didn't attend my senior prom. Perhaps I have unresolved issues with that. Or perhaps this movie has unresolved issues with terror, tension, and thrills. I think that’s more likely.
Director Nelson McCormick has done a large amount of episodic television work so maybe that’s why his movie is paced around imaginary commercial breaks. Each time tension builds he moves away from the action to show people dancing or crowning the prom king and queen. Like an episode of CSI, nothing appears out of control or erupts into hysterical terror. He also seems to have a fetish for closets. I lost count how often someone opened, reached into, looked in, or hid in, a closet. Donna hides under a bed twice, but I didn't find that as annoying. Not much tension builds from opening closets, I can tell you that. I’d sum up this movie this way: give sinister look, slash a victim, show dancing in slow motion, show someone opening a closet; give sinister look, slash a victim, show more dancing, show someone else opening a closet; slash a victim, stop the dancing long enough to show prom king and queen being crowned, show someone opening a damn closet again, slash another victim; and so on…
Donna is stalked by her college teacher (probably her chemistry teacher; they're all nutzy from handling toxic substances). It's not clear why he needs to kill people in order to get close to her, but this is a slasher movie so reasons are not always necessary, only lots of slashing. He's so good at it he leaves a bloodless trail suitable for this PG-13'er. After her family is massacred, three years pass before Donna's back to normal enough to attend her senior prom. Not surprisingly, her stalking teacher escapes in time to rent a tux and join the festivities.
The teacher (Johnathon Schaech) gives overly sinister looks and acts like a Charles Manson wannabe. He wears a black golf cap, tweedy sport coat, and needs a shave. He looks intensely at you when spoken to without saying a word. Only in movies do psychos dress and act this way. In real life, the only guys who dress and act this way are directors and bloggers of horror movies. I admit I did wear a black golf cap before seeing this movie. Now I realize it does make you look like an oddball if you're not golfing, so that's it for me. I'm happy to say I haven't worn a tweedy sport coat in years. I do still need to shave.
When Donna realizes she's being stalked again, the action is chopped, but not in that good, horror-chopped-up sort of way. We keep shifting, never staying long enough in one place to be scared or cause popcorn tipping seat-jump. The opening few minutes promise much but deliver little, and I won't pin all the blame on the PG-13 rating requirements. All the action is homogenized around those imaginary commercial breaks, and starts and stops with little tension or visceral involvement. It's all glossy, television-slick—not cable, mind you--with no blemishes to fret over.
The prom is held in a lavish hotel with beautiful young people who don't worry about recessions or social inequities or our out of control national debt. The police are adequately inept to help increase the body count, but Detective Winn (Idris Elba) goes through the motions anyway, and Elba does a good job in spite of the character he's written into. When Donna is left almost friendless, I imagined how different this might have been.
What if Polly Pureheart Donna was a black-haired goth with punky attitude? Perky goth Donna flirts with her chem teacher (or maybe lit teacher is better: they like tweedy jackets, too), and going too far, regrets it. He goes nutz when she calls it off and can't hold a test tube without breaking it just thinking of her. So now there's her guilt and his feelings of rejection adding to the terror. Guilty terror with feelings of rejection is always great for building tension. To stay alive, she's forced to make nice with the vixens from hell--the envied, fashion-conscious, hip girls at school who despise her Ubergoth ways. Her Doom Cookie boyfriend finds out all about the side fling and joins the chem teacher and both go after her and her newfound friends. Much collateral damage ensues, add lots of blood. The end is a multi-ambulance tear-jerker.
But, sadly, Donna is not goth, and her friends are the socially coolest in school. Everyone but the stalking psycho is dead set on having fun at the prom. Even the girly rivalry between Donna and Paris Hilton--sorry, my bad--between Donna and the spoiled rich girl who despises her is lukewarm and goes nowhere. Her boyfriend doesn't even get the chance to protect or save her. What's a boyfriend good for if he can't at least do that? When the end comes, it's exactly like the ending you'd see in a non-continued television episode just before the commercial break.
And roll credits.
Wait! There's a glimmer of tension when her best friend Lisa (Dana Davis) realizes who the creepy guy in the black golf cap and tweedy jacket reminds her of, but no, that fizzles out without much frazzle. Instead there's lots of predictable running away from potential help and through translucent plastic curtains hung in dark rooms as Lisa hides from the killer in a deserted part of the hotel under renovation. I was hoping she would stop and improvise a defense from the paint cans and tools lying on the workmen's tables, but her character wasn't written to be that clever.
At least she didn't open another closet.