Screenwriter Josiah Nelson
Director Michael Polish
Terror in the prairie is an unassuming film with few aspirations other than to live up to the austere title.
In the American West, farmers Jeb (Donald Cerrone) and Hattie McAllister (Gina Carano) find the harsh prairie lifestyle difficult. Jeb wishes to persevere, but Hattie is fed up and would rather go back to town. Nonetheless, she is a good neighbor offering basic medical services to the local Native American tribes and hospitality to a passing party of riders. The latter is a mistake as the Horsemen, under the command of Captain Miller (Nick Searcy), have a grudge against Jeb and, as he is on a run through town, intend to hold Hattie and her children hostage. Hattie refuses to cooperate.
Director Michael Polish contrasts the raw beauty of the open plains with their coldly alien and menacing nature. In a bold move, there’s no music on the soundtrack, so a traditionally easy way to build tension is lost. It’s a shame because Terror in the prairie lack of suspense.
We are constantly reminded of the harsh environment in which the family struggles to survive by a strange wind howling in the background. The approach seems to expand to show the prairie just as much of a threat as the villains, with the family caught between a rock and a hard place – unable to escape the gang because the plains are so dangerous. But this is never developed, instead the film gets bogged down in a siege.
Polish places great importance on authenticity. Natural lighting is used, which is fine in daytime scenes filmed in the open, but those inside the cabin or on the plains at night are awash in shadows and the figures difficult to see.
Gina Carano’s range as an actor is limited, and Josiah Nelson’s script doesn’t play to her strengths. Carano is a former mixed martial artist, but it’s not believable to show a simple woman like Hattie sending her opponents into clinch. Instead, Hattie relies on the traditional Wild West staple of a gunfight, but she’s a rotten shot. Much of the film involves guns exploding to no avail. Ironically, Carano is reduced to the role of a brave damsel who delays the villains until the man returns to save the day.
Terror in the prairie has a decent villain. Nick Searcy’s Bible-quoting psychopath has a dark charisma and a messianic delivery of dialogue along the lines of if you know who i am, you know why i’m here. His gang of laughs, however, are so indescribable that their names (long hair, gold tooth) serve as descriptions to help tell them apart.
The failure to harness the hostile nature of the prairie into a menacing presence causes the film to stick as an unconvincing siege film. Terror in the meadow, like characters unable to hit the barn door with a banjo, misses the mark.
Signature Entertainment Presents Terror in the prairie on digital platforms September 5 and DVD October 3