REVIEW: Prey (2019)

dir. Franck Khalfoun.

A Polaroid camera clicks and whirrs, the developing photos showing a clergyman, his wife and young daughter setting up home and church on an island near Malaysia. The final photo shows the church burning, posing a central mystery: what happened on this island?

Best known for his 2012 remake of Maniac, director Khalfoun’s latest follows Toby (Logan Miller) as a teenager left guilt-stricken and grieving after his father is killed in a car-jacking at their home. As part of his therapy he’s sent on an outward-bound style retreat with other troubled teens, the final part of their programme involving the participants being left on separate, uninhabited islands to fend themselves for three days. After a rocky start and a bout of food poisoning Toby’s luck seems to turn when he meets Madeleine (Kristine Froseth), a girl who has lived on the island most of her life. She helps Toby find food and the two begin a romance, but Madeleine warns him that there are dangers on the island, and he discovers for himself that there is something stalking the jungle at night. 

Shot on location on Langkawi Island the setting is suitably atmospheric, the long stretch of beach and open sea emphasising Toby’s loneliness, with the jungle providing perfect cover for the unknown entity lurking out of sight. Miller gives an understated but empathetic performance, conveying Toby’s sense of desperation to right past wrongs by helping someone he believes to be in peril. There is some effective tension in early scenes as Toby senses he may not be truly alone, whilst also wondering if he is merely jumping at shadows.

Unfortunately, the film’s positives are significantly outweighed by its shortcomings. The characters are underdeveloped and once the main action starts we learn little more about Toby, the short flashbacks of his childhood feeling like clunky, heavy-handed attempts to add emotional depth. Minor characters are introduced only to be swiftly dispatched, and the film falls into tired slasher tropes. The cause of the horror is explained in a vague way during one scene of exposition, and though deeper lore is hinted at we are never given any further details, rendering the monster a generic supernatural bogeyman. 

Ultimately the mid-film plot twist – a rather underwhelming revelation – dissipates any sense of intrigue, and as the film progresses it leans further into formulaic jump scares and some rather sub-par CGI, sadly squandering its early promise.

⭐⭐

Melissa Cox

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