Terror on the Prairie, a new piece of extended video content from right-wing website The Daily Wire, is little more than a feature-length adaptation of the fantasy scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie fends off bandits using only his trusty BB gun. The script would be adequate as a first draft in a college screenwriting course, in that there are no glaring, embarrassing flaws. Instead, the plot trots along like a horse through mud, mistaking slack for thoughtfulness and telegraphing for foreshadowing.
As direct-to-video movies go, it’s probably not bad enough to become a cult classic and is more likely to be ignored than mocked. Anyone who has ever seen a poorly executed play can attest that the worst thing an actor or director can hear after curtain call is “the set was beautiful.” Along those lines, I’d like to say the location scout for Terror was phenomenal.
The movie stars former mixed martial artist Gina Carano, whose acting skills have noticeably atrophied, and UFC fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who gives a surprisingly passable performance. The whole point of the movie is to give Carano a platform after she was fired from the Star Wars miniseries The Mandalorian for making antisemitic remarks on social media following earlier transphobic comments she had posted. The marketing is about as subtle as the movie itself: “Gina Carano is back. Disney canceled her. Now, the un-canceling begins.”
The storyline in Terror is simple. Carano’s character, Hattie, who comes from a wealthy St. Louis family, has headed west with her husband Jeb, played by Cerrone, to homestead. By the film’s opening, she has come to regret the decision, but Jeb insists they stay. “Just got to have a little grit,” he tells her. “Deep down, you’re the toughest woman in this territory.”
Characterization beyond that is minimal yet heavy-handed. In an early scene, a band of Native Americans show up with a wounded member of their tribe, and Hattie stitches her up. She’s a good person, you see. We don’t hear from any indigenous people for the rest of the film, although Hattie uses the gift the tribe gives her — a knife — to kill an attacker in the final act.
While Jeb goes to town to get supplies and look for work, a gang of bandits — we learn later that they’re former Confederate soldiers led by a character called Captain Miller — show up to menace Hattie and her children. What follows is an extended stand-off that takes up most of the rest of the movie. Hattie manages to prevent them from storming her house — she’s standing her ground, you see — only to realize later that she and her children are bait. Jeb is the real target. What? Yeah.
It turns out Jeb and Miller have a history. Jeb was a former Confederate soldier at the outset of the Civil War, but eventually defected to the Union by its end. “Things weren’t simple back then,” Hattie tells her son of his father’s decision to initially fight a war on the side of enslavers. At one point during the war, Jeb tried to murder Miller but ended up accidentally killing his daughter. Miller is now out for revenge, and this personal backstory — more than that fact that he was a high-ranking Confederate officer who fought to maintain a society based on racist chattel slavery — serves to explain his character defects.
After getting nice and liquored up in town, Jeb sees a wanted poster with Miller’s face on it and hurries home, which brings us to the movie’s final act. When Jeb returns to the farm, he finds Hattie has been taken captive by the gang, and he surrenders to them under the promise that they’ll let her go. They do not. In a needlessly gratuitous scene of sexual violence, Hattie uses the knife she was gifted to kill one of the bandits as he tries to rape her. She frees Jeb, and together they kill Miller and his remaining foot soldier.
We close with a wide shot of other settlers rebuilding Hattie and Jeb’s burned-down shack. It's a happy ending, if you find settler colonialism and the slow-moving genocide of indigenous peoples heartwarming.
Unlike other movies from the Daily Wire — like the new anti-trans What Is a Woman? — Terror doesn’t explicitly mine reactionary bigotry to court controversy and attention from the press, with the notable exception of highlighting Carano’s “un-canceling.” Instead, it seems designed to attract a wider audience interested in Americana genre films and use that as an entry point into the site’s far-right politics. For now, Terror is siloed off and seems destined for a short shelf life in the attention economy. But it would be a mistake to ignore what the Daily Wire is trying to do, even if it is poorly executed.