By this point, the story of Gina Carano’s much-publicized exodus from Star Wars: The Mandalorian – and Hollywood mainstream culture in general – has been well established. Soon after getting the boot, Conservative news outlet The Daily Wire immediately reached out to her with an offer to come produce and star in a movie being developed under the company’s own roof.
Soon after, Terror on the Prairie was announced, featuring Carano starring in what looked to be a gritty Western piece reminiscent of films like Unforgiven, Tombstone, and Bone Tomahawk. Fans of that last film will find a lot to like about Terror on the Prairie, as both share the same sense of authenticity and ruggedness.
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That’s where the film really shines, turning into a project that reaches far beyond its controversial star. By the time the end credits roll, audiences are put through 1 hour and 47 minutes of tension where anything can happen, and sometimes does. It also boasts a story that manages to stand on its own, even if it can’t quite reach Academy Award status.
None of that matters, since Terror on the Prairie makes a point to snub Hollywood and dismiss empty validation in favor of making a genuine movie that both Western and non-Western fans can appreciate. It also ups the ante for The Daily Wire in a big way, demonstrating a massive uptick in quality. This company is going places, make no mistake.
Terror on the Prairie focuses on Hattie and Jeb McAllister, a married couple with a young son and an infant baby girl trying to strike out on their own, and make a life for themselves on the cold and rugged plains of Montana. Times are tough, and Hattie (Gina Carano) is ready to throw in the towel and return home to beg her father for a job, rather than suffer the daily grind.
With money running out, Jeb heads into town in search of work, leaving Hattie and the children behind. Soon after, she is accosted by four seedy looking men on horseback who have come knocking for food and water.
At first, Hattie welcomes them into her home, but when she notices the scalp of a man tied to one of their horses, she realizes that she’s dealing with murderers. She cleverly turns the tables on them at gunpoint and forces them to leave, which sets off a chain of events that traps Hattie and the kids in their shack, with the outlaws seeking payback.
With Jeb still in town, Hattie must fend off the four men while trying to figure out a way to escape. After one of the outlaws inadvertently spills the beans as to what they’re up to, Hattie realizes the truth – she and the children are bait designed to lureJeb back to the house for reasons that will later be revealed.
TENSION WITHOUT TEDIUM
Terror on the Prairie is not a Spaghetti Western, which means there are no large sets, roaring musical numbers with Mexican horns and tom rolls, cheesy zoom-ins or tacky one liners. The film tries to be as authentic as possible, and when it comes to visuals, it hits the bullseye in a big way. Every single piece of furniture, sign, and horse wagon feels like it came straight out of the time period.
That goes a long way to selling the believability of the film, but the inclusion of a tense and smart script helps propel it to the next level. TOTP can’t be accused of being a super-exciting Western with heart-pounding horseback chase sequences and forehead sweat quickdraws at high noon, but it does manage to ratchet up tension and maintain it to the final scene.
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This reviewer must confess to feeling lukewarm towards Westerns in general, having never really been a fan. However, TOTP managed to hold my attention throughout the entire film, thanks largely to the way the slow pacing maximizes the adrenaline. I always wanted to see what would happen next.
In that way, it’s a lot like how Saving Private Ryan managed to give authenticity to WWII films after decades of big glamorous productions with overly happy endings and clean-as-a-whistle visuals. Terror on the Prairie is brutal both in honesty, presentation, and the level of violence it portrays on screen.
Director Michael Polish returns to the setting of Montana once again, having previously directed Northfork in 2003, starring Nick Nolte and James Woods. He manages to sell the scope of a wide open landscape with ease, and that’s one of the film’s strongest points. The scenery is beautiful to behold, and presented with sharp, desaturated colors, and a sense of immense scale.
Of course, it’s the backdrop for the claustrophobic McAllister shack, where much of the story takes place. With so much country to run to, Hattie and her children are forced to remain inside what could become their coffin at any moment. This is where the film manages to utilize its sense of tension and dread to excellent effect.
It’s nothing without the performances, and every single cast member is a hoot to watch. Nick Searcy steals every scene he’s in as Captain Miller, playing a unique kind of villain that is ruthless and untrustworthy, yet at the same time, vulnerable. The reason for this becomes more clear as the film progresses, and it transforms the story from a simple revenge flick to one loaded with shades of grey.
Miller lies about all but one thing, and audiences get to see that there’s more to him than just a nefarious sadist and outlaw. When he does tell the truth, it helps validate why he and his crew are doing what they’re doing. Searcy deserves full praise for cranking out a bad guy with actual layers and depth.
There are also a few surprise faces in the film, including legendary martial arts action star Matthias Hues, and Gabriel-Kane Day Lewis, son of the iconic and Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
For her part, Gina Carano is definitely growing as an actress. She never started out as an A-lister, but her starring role in Terror on the Prairie feels more authentic than anything she’s done up to this point. This isn’t Gina kicking the tar out of Colossus in Deadpool, or tangling with Din Djarin on The Mandalorian.
Here, Gina is Gina, and she feels more accessible and down-to-earth than ever, perhaps given all she’s been through in her personal life over the last few years. After watching Terror on the Prairie, audiences can look forward to her growing beyond her acting range as she tackles more projects that don’t rely exclusively on her fighting prowess and her MMA career.
Some might be turned off by the slow pace of Terror on the Prairie, but there’s still quite a lot of action to go around. The film is devoid of any music during its runtime, instead preferring to utilize simple sound and ambiance to sell the tension. It works well, though action fans used to hyper-kinetic action scenes may not like it.
It’s hard to find fault in the movie at all, mostly because it never tries to be something that it isn’t. The only possible gripe would be the third and final act when Jeb makes his way back into the picture, which seems a bit puzzling. Even then, it sets the stage for a climatic end sequence that is refreshing in this day and age.
Though the character performances are excellent right across the board, two of the villains could have used a bit more screen time, dialogue, and character development. In the end, they’re there to do what they’re there to do, and that’s what matters. Whatever issues are present in the film, they’re minor, and not enough to derail the good.
The Daily Wire has caught some flack for picking up scripts and films with female leads who are forced to fight back against all odds, but they’ve never done it with an overtly feminist message attached. Terror on the Prairie is a lot different, and has no feminist themes whatsoever, which is ironic given its butt-kicking lead actress.
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Here, Gina Carano doesn’t play a tough-as-nails woman single-handedly taking on four bad guys by herself. As a matter of fact, she’s not a fighter at all, and she’s a lousy shot to boot! Hattie is a wife and a mom first and foremost, and she spends the first half of the film bemoaning the difficulties of life on the harsh prairie.
By the end, she hasn’t awakened her inner tigress; she’s merely done what she needed to do in order to save herself, and her family. In fact, the movie doesn’t end with Hattie saving the day all by herself, but rather via one of the most refreshing “about damned time” team-ups in a movie seen in recent years.
Which, of course, lends credibility to the argument that the “strong, independent woman who don’t need no man” narrative pushed by radical feminists is a load of bunk. Gina Carano channels Hattie the same way that Sigourney Weaver did with Ellen Ripley in Aliens – she’s not a feminist icon, merely a rational and responsible woman with a solid moral compass mustering her courage to do what’s right.
It’s all for the sake of standing by her man, and her children, while re-learning the value of what her role as a wife and mother means. That’s not some patriarchal millstone around Hattie’s neck, but rather, a far more empowering and beautiful message for women than anything the cynical dead end of radical feminism can offer in the modern age.
Despite a slow pace and effective use of tension, there’s plenty of gunfire to go around in Terror on the Prairie. The guns look and sound authentic, as does the awkward manner of shooting and reloading that was par for the course during that time. There’s even a nice nod to a key scene in Quigley Down Under near the end, which may or may not have been by accident.
The film is also quite bloody, and therefore not for the little ones, but the violence isn’t gratuitous. Don’t expect fountains of blood hitting the ceiling, or gaping wounds the size of manhole covers from rifle blasts. The movie does begin on a particularly grisly and graphic note, but it’s done for the purpose of establishing the characters.
This adds further authenticity to the feel of the film, which already looks the part. The objective was to try and tell a fictional story set inside a real world, and a real time. By all accounts, Michael Polish and his team succeeded in doing exactly that, and then some.
The bulk of the action takes place in the final act when things come full circle for all of the characters, and it’s a nice way to finish off the story. It also ends on a very positive and uplifting note, which is sorely needed in today’s overly negative film climate. If the turmoil of the 1970s was reflected in its cinema during that time, Terror on the Prairie tries to stave off that same trend in the 2020s.
Whatever negatives are attached to Terror on the Prairie are not enough to hurt its overall score. Great westerns like this one are few and far between, and if Hollywood has its way, they’ll soon become Woke-washed in an effort to push radical narratives. That’s what makes this particular movie so important.
Not only has it been released at the right time, just as the cultural pendulum is starting to shift away from the Woke, but the messaging is deeply Conservative, pushing traditional values that preach the strength of a husband and wife who act as a team, as well as the strength of the nuclear family.
It also reaffirms the traditional male role of the protector in an age when disillusioned men are abandoning women to the predations of the villains. Hattie’s husband Jeb is a fine, upstanding man who loves his family and wants the best for them, and he epitomizes the kind of male role model that young boys should aspire to.
And of course, the story harkens back to a cinematic age when female heroes could be celebrated for their genuineness and authenticity, instead of their genitalia. Hattie may not exactly be Princess Leia, but her character certainly takes cues from strong female characters who weren’t afraid to be soft, gentle, and vulnerable when the situation called for it.
This movie must be graded on its merits in relation to the climate we’re living in, as well as several other factors. It doesn’t have a blockbuster budget, yet it still feels much more expensive than it is. It should have a lukewarm story at best, but it’s multilayered and intriguing. The actors should at least be decent, but instead, they throw themselves into their roles with zeal and enthusiasm.
Massive praise should be given to the director, the crew, the actors, and of course, Carano herself. She’s been put through the wringer, only to dazzle her fans and sucker punch her naysayers and detractors who assumed she was done and gone. Don’t count on it! Gina Carano is just getting started, and the movie world had better damn well be ready!
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- A superb and authentic Western movie feel
- Tension driven by interesting characters
- Gina Carano plays against her typecasting to fantastic effect
- A bit light on development of certain characters
- The slower pace may not be everyone's cup of tea