Look, we get it; you don’t want to waste time or try the audience’s patience when there’s monsters and/or mayhem on the horizon. Prey, the latest low-budget offering from Blumhouse Productions wastes absolutely no time in plonking us on an abandoned island with our obnoxious protagonist Toby (Logan Miller). The fact that our reasons for being there are totally insane is only the first flaw in this atmospheric but poorly-conceived thriller.
Toby is a typical millennial straight out of a Daily Mail opinion piece. Too busy lazing around on his phone to help his all-American father fix a cherry red muscle car (of course), Toby ends up being absent when his father is brutally killed by a masked gang. From here we flash forward to a meeting in a wood-paneled room where Toby is told by someone (a therapist? A teacher? His mother?) that he’s being sent on a course which involves being left on an unexplored Malaysian island for three days. This, as we all know, is the only surefire way to deal with grief, or depression, or phone addiction, or something (the film offers no clear rationale). Predictably, the island is not as uninhabited as it first appears, and Toby soon finds himself fighting for his life.
It’s a slap-dash setup that could be forgiven if the audience was rewarded with a clean pay-off, but the film continues in a meandering and muddled mode. Toby meets a girl called Madeline (Kristine Froseth) who has apparently been on the island for three years. Just when Toby thinks he’s in for a relaxing tropical vacation with his new Girl Friday, he learns that she lives with her mother (Jolene Anderson) who is unbalanced and possibly murderous. Add to that a malevolent supernatural force that possesses people on the island and you’re left with a thick soup of island horror clichés that never quite comes to the boil.
The film boasts some fine performances, and Logan Miller makes for a compelling lead. It wouldn’t be fair to say that he’s a likable presence, but his grief over his father is palpable. However, it’s a performance hampered by the demands of the script. Watching Toby turn from a hapless teen whose provisions are stolen by monkeys on day one into Rambo by day three is a hard sell even in Miller’s hands. Kristine Froseth’s performance is enigmatic and robustly physical, but the limits of her part are dictated by generic expectations which leave little room for development.
The true star of the piece is Eric Robbins’ cinematography. The stunning vistas of Malaysian islands are suitably breath-taking here, and even the actions sequences are clear and easy to follow. Chaotic, thrashing jungle fight scenes are rendered in a manner that rachets up the tension but never becomes confusing.
As the Blumhouse juggernaut gains momentum it seems inevitable that more of its output will be flawed. The company’s inventive, low-budget approach to horror has produced some great material, but Prey feels more like a made-to-order piece. The script, co-written by director Franck Khalfoun and David Coggeshal, lacks a central idea to hang everything on. As a result it ends up flailing around somewhat, entertaining in parts but ultimately lacking heft.