Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Yiuwing Lam
Writer: Yiuwing Lam
Producer: Kimberly Scott, Nary La, Yiuwing Lam
Stars: Nick Renaud, Henry Monfries, Gemmenne de la Pena, Hannah Kasulka, Alastair Ferrie, Rene Cadet
Two teens decide to take revenge on the school bully by pulling the perfect prank, but their plan has deadly consequences.
POSSIBLY MILD *SPOILERS*
This review of “Prank” is being written on June 19, 2013. Two and a half weeks ago, HBO aired the penultimate episode in season three of the hit television series “Game of Thrones.” That episode, “The Rains of Castamere,” set the various worlds of social media into a tizzy with its depiction of an event from the George R.R. Martin novels known as “The Red Wedding.” Before the episode had a chance to air on the West Coast of the States, Facebook, Twitter, and various websites were already afire with exclamations of “OMG!” and “I can’t believe it!”
When I sat down and watched the episode for myself, I found that even though no one had put forth any specific spoilers, I was not caught off guard by the events in the way that the storytellers likely intended. This was due to the fact that even though I did not know exactly what to expect, I knew to expect something.
I thought back to when I first saw “The Sixth Sense” in a theater. I realized what the twist was before it was revealed in the movie, (I found it odd that no one other than Haley Joel Osment ever spoke directly to Bruce Willis), but I wondered if I only figured it out because I knew that there was a twist ending coming my way in the first place. In other words, is it already a spoiler just to know that something worth spoiling even exists in a film?
Why did I just spend 250 words discussing something other than the movie being reviewed? Because “Prank” is difficult to discuss after the fact without mentioning its twist. And although these remaining paragraphs will be as spoiler-free as possible, identifying that a twist exists violates what was posited three sentences ago and puts the audience on its toes before viewing the film.
Before firing off an angry message in this direction, understand that you were likely to see the twist coming anyway. It is not terribly well hidden to begin with and as a Culture Crypt reader, you have already demonstrated exceptional sophistication and intelligent tastes that preclude one from being so easily hornswoggled.
END POSSIBLY MILD *SPOILERS*
Although the shift in narrative direction is important to the movie, “Prank” does not live or die by it. The movie is more centrally focused on themes of teenage behavior and adaptation to social conflicts than it is on action entertainment.
In fact, the North American DVD box art for “Prank” is highly misrepresentative of what the film actually entails. Grim-faced clowns and tied-up cheerleaders intentionally, and shamelessly, attract horror genre fans, but expectations should be tempered differently for “Prank.” With plenty of blood and several intense situations, there is definitely horror to be had. But IMDB more correctly classifies the applicable genre as “Crime.” That clown mask on the cover appears only once, and briefly at that. This is not a slasher film poised to frighten with jump scares and a body count. “Prank” is social commentary.
Star Trek fan Connor has had enough of having his face shoved into dirty toilets by school bully Dax. Connor’s equally nerdy friend Jordan finds himself roped into his buddy’s partially harebrained scheme to make Dax suffer an even worse humiliation. With a video camera documenting every phase in the plan, the dorky duo plots the prank to end all pranks. Of course, what they do not plan for is for someone to end up dead.
“Prank” demonstrates a smart use of the “found footage” style, except for feeling the need to accompany each press of the camera’s power button with an annoying triple beep. Rarely is there a moment where the question comes up, “why are they recording right now?” The format folds into the story well and moments of brief incredulity are rescued by a script that recognizes where its plot holes are.
Perhaps the script is too self-aware. “Prank” pulls out a few writer tricks of having the characters outright question when an action fails to make logical sense. They acknowledge that the problem at least exists in the fiction, although the action still moves right past it. Yet there are also times when the script chooses to address story issues that other films would not even notice. In one scene, a character asks, why don’t you just call the police? The response is, I already did, but someone told them to expect a prank call from me. Finally, a film’s characters, and its writer, actually consider the sensible course of action, and add a quick hit of dialogue to have its omission explained.
While the story structure works well enough, the dialogue and characterization do not ring as true. There is a heavy reliance on curse words that feels as forced and unnatural as it does unnecessary. The greater failure is that none of the characters are sympathetic. When not treating their Plain Jane gal pal disrespectfully, the two nerdy buddies are at times outright hateful to one another, even to the point where punches to the face are thrown. Writer/director Yiuwing Lam may have intended there to be moral ambiguity all around in order for the ultimate message to have more meaning. But that message loses impact when the audience detachment from the personalities onscreen results in a drought of emotional investment.
Nick Renaud and Henry Monfries are okay as the two lead boys, but their performances have a taint of rehearsed-ness to them that undermines the authenticity. In particular, laughs both sinister and jovial sound hollow and staged. It could have been worse, but that observation is not really a glowing compliment.
“Prank” is admirable for a first feature, and has a chance to satiate those searching for a different vein of “found footage” crime thriller. Still, even with several bullet points in the “Pros” column, it is a shame that the “Cons” of “Prank” end up on a longer list. Yiuwing Lam is creative enough to craft a contemporary story with much to offer in terms of meaning and entertainment. But what exactly he intends for the audience to take away is partially unclear in the aftermath of the movie. The characters and dialogue are not fully up to the task of meeting the story’s ambition. “Prank” is one of those films that once it ends, thinking back on it with even mild scrutiny shows that the plot does not hold its entire glass of water. That the film loses itself in its own intention of being simultaneously relevant and suspenseful is what makes “Prank” a story that tries too much without having the tools to pull off the job completely.
Review Score: 55