In 1932, RKO Radio Pictures released The Most Dangerous Game, a survival thriller about a man who hunts humans for sport when four survivors take shelter in a castle on an island at sea after their boat is capsized. The castle is home to a Russian count who is a hunting enthusiast, but what he hunts aren’t animals of the tropical variety. This idea of a hunter and its prey is a big part of horror narratives. There’s almost always an innocent being chased by a hunter wearing a mask. A most dangerous game indeed, and one that co-writer/director Franck Khalfoun takes on in his new film. Despite the suspenseful premise, Prey turns in one of Blumhouse’s weaker productions, which all comes down to unoriginality and an underdeveloped backstory.
Prey introduces what a solo episode of Survivor would look like. Called the “Lost and Found Program,” a group of young adults are each dropped off on a separate inhabited island where they are encouraged to explore and take their minds off the real world for three days. Those who partake in solo journeys often do so as a means of reflection and self-discovery, but what our protagonist reflects on is how to survive the demon he soon discovers lurking on the island with him. It’s a program that’s supposed to help Toby (played by Love, Simon’s Logan Miller) forget past trauma, but instead, it only causes more.
The film opens with Toby discovering his father murdered in an apparent robbery, and then quickly flashes forward without any kind of closure and goes straight to the boat taking him to the island. “Your own slice of paradise,” the guide tells Toby and the others, but it’s far from it. Despite cutting his food on a shell and having a monkey eat all his food, the island looks like a tranquil getaway, but Toby soon learns that he’s not alone. Through the film’s opening credits, the audience discovers that the island was once inhabited by a tribe—a tribe that is never named or explored—and that an American family found a home with them. The tribe’s gone now, their slaughter an allegory of genocide; a plot device, which, personally speaking, left me with a bad taste due to its overuse. While the tribe is no more, two members of the American family still remain.
Toby meets Madeleine (Kristine Froseth), who moved to the island with her explorer parents at a very young age. She knows how to survive the wilderness and is almost savage in the way she kills her prey. Toby and Madeleine soon form a friendship that is rooted in the mutual loss of a father, and with a Tomb Raider-esque hunter with bow and arrow in hand, Madeleine’s mother (played by Jolene Anderson) is soon introduced, but Madeleine warns Toby that she’s out to kill. She may say that her mother isn’t what she seems, but Madeleine has secrets of her own. Mystery surrounds this island and its current and past residents, and those mysteries that the audience wishes to be solved remain an enigma for the most part. While co-writers David Coggeshall and Khalfoun do attempt at explaining what happened to the tribe through tales by Madeleine and her mother, questions still remain, especially in regards to who the tribe was and why Madeleine and her family traveled there in the first place. Due to her suppressed memories, Madeleine struggles to recall her past, which leads to a disjointed backstory.
While trying to avoid the killer of the island, believed to be Madeleine’s mother, Toby begins to see something else in the dark: a horned, goat-like beast. For much of Prey, this beast remains unseen, but it still manages to be frightening as just a shadow peering at the audience from behind Toby’s shoulder. This devil is a trickster, sucking Toby in until they come face to face. Definitely a high point of the film is its special effects, as the demon reveals itself with beaming eyes and sharp teeth, the character design feeling unique to the film. But the admiration of its unique design is soon stripped away by the film’s conclusion. Toby and the demon engage in a dance of annihilation in a lighthouse; an ending that’s too similar to Alex Garland’s Annihilation, with the similarities continuing right up to the credits.
I’m sad to say that, if it weren’t for the engaging performances by Miller, Froseth, and Anderson, Prey would have been a waste. But they all build tension to a narrative that manages to keep the audience guessing as to what will happen next. Unfortunately, the film’s unoriginality in its ending and disjointed execution in its backstory leaves much to be desired.
Movie Score: 2/5