Director: Franck Khalfoun
Screenplay: David Coggeshall, Franck Khalfoun
Starring: Logan Miller, Kristine Froseth, Jolene Anderson
Year: 2019
Duration: 85 mins
Country: US
BBFC Certification: 15

It’s funny how many people’s idea of paradise – living on a remote tropical island, filled with golden sand and surrounded by azure seas – can turn out, in much of literature and cinema, to become a living nightmare. From Lord of the Flies, The Beach, Castaway, Robinson Crusoe, to even TV’s Lost, living in a topical paradise rarely turns out to be the heaven so many people wish for. Prey, a new film from Franck Khalfoun (you might remember him from helming the remake of Maniac around ten years ago) fully adheres to cinema’s typical deception of island living as a slow descent into hell…although it achieves this with far less success than some of its more illustrious forbearers.  

Prey begins with a bizarre proposition. Toby (Logan Miller) has recently lost his father, a loss he seems unable to come to terms with. The solution? He is sent to a remote island off the coast of Malaysia, where he must spend three days living alone in order to ‘reconnect with himself’.  This ridiculous premise (is abandoning young people with mental health issues on remote islands with minimal food and water really the best way to help them?) is made all the more implausible by the fact that the film never attempts to show us what is actually so wrong with Toby to warrant this kind of extreme treatment; too all intents and purposes, he just seems to be naturally grieving.

The film then spends an obligatory amount of time showing Toby struggling alone on the island (cutting himself, eating bad food) before establishing that he might not be alone after all (surprise surprise). There seems to be something else living on the island, something sinister, that he can sense watching him at night. Salvation soon arrives in the form of Madeleine (Kristine Froseth), a young teenager who is also seemingly living alone on the island. Mysterious and aloof, can Madeleine shed any light on the island’s past and what else might be living there with them?

One of the key things that struck me about Prey (especially coming from the director of Maniac and from Hollywood’s premier horror production company, Blumhouse) is just how tame the film is. Considering the nature of the title, Prey is almost entirely devoid of gore and, more significantly, any kind of creepy or unsettling atmosphere. In fact, for most of the running time, Prey comes across more like an uninspired adventure film than an edge of your seat horror.  The only thing Khalfoun seems comfortable doing are numerous jump scares that are peppered so liberally throughout the film, by the time you experience one for the umpteenth time towards the end, you’ll be rolling your eyes instead of leaping out of your seat. Considering the pedigree involved, Prey’s curious ambivalence towards actually trying to scare it’s audience is certainly a shame.

What is perhaps not quite as frustrating but still certainly aggravating is the story Prey chooses to tell. As seen in the admittedly effective opening credits, there is a far wider and bigger story to be told here than what Prey elects to show us. When one character starts spouting exposition (while impaled to a tree, no less, but it is that kind of film) and certain revelations are revealed, you start to wish that that story was the one being told rather than the tepid horror you’ve spent the last hour sitting through.

Prey does have a few grace notes that save it from being a complete shipwreck. Outside of his over reliance on jump scares, Khalfoun constructs a few effective sequences that quicken the pulse (including one set underwater that ratchets up the tension) and he ensures that the slickly shot production keeps up an air of efficient mystery, thanks to the sharp, brisk pace. 

Yet ultimately Prey feels like a missed opportunity. Coming across more like a bad adaptation of a young adult novel, it is a slight, mildly entertaining horror/adventure film that is full of cliched, predicable scares that is unfortunately nowhere near as horrific or as unnerving as it could have been.

Signature Entertainment presents Prey on Amazon Prime Video on 9th July

Prey
2.5Overall Score
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