There’s something classic about a good old fashioned creature feature, particularly one that doesn’t involve some kind of mutation or require a natural weather phenomenon. In the wake of a glut of made-for-TV films, writer/director Dick Maas aims to resuscitate the subgenre with his 2016 film Prey (Prooi in its original Dutch) by infusing a sense of delirious fun with graphic carnage.
Set in the beautiful Dutch capital of Amsterdam, Prey concerns a large, carnivorous lion that is on the loose and liberally chowing down on people. The film’s cold open quickly and efficiently establishes the premise with the mysterious deaths of an entire family in their secluded house just outside of the city. Included in the death toll: a young girl, whose body is discovered some distance away after being dragged and partially eaten in a field. The ruthlessness of both the film and its central monster is telling; Maas, Prey and the lion kill characters indiscriminately, regardless of their sex, profession or age. In fact the film’s willingness to kill not just one, but several children over its 1 hour and 50 minute runtime alone makes it worthy of recommendation. If only North American horror films were so liberal with their child murder.
Following the initial attack, Prey introduces veterinarian Lizzy (Sophie van Winden). Maas scripts Lizzy’s first scene in a very telling fashion: she is seen sticking her hand into the stomach of a sedated crocodile while fending off sexual advances by her on-again, off-again boyfriend, cameraman and philanderer Dave (Julian Looman). Lizzy’s ability to keep calm and collected in tense and stressful circumstances – human and animal-related – serves her well throughout the film. (By comparison, her physical likeness to Naomi Watts alternates between endearing and distracting).
Lizzy is pulled into the investigation by Olaf Brinkers (Rienus Krul) because of her experience working not only with animals, but more specifically lions. Together they come up with a plan to help the police deal with the rapidly escalating attacks; plans which are derailed by Dave and reporter Maarten (Pieter Derks)’s press coverage, as well as by an inept and nepotistic police Chief. Eventually Lizzy’s ex, a skilled British hunter named Jack (Mark Frost), is also called in to help stop the creature.
Prey doesn’t suffer from a particularly complicated plot. More often than not Maas knows how to balance his audacious attack scenes and his lighthearted, verging on rude comedy. This frequently works best when the latter is mixed into the former such as the scenes set at a golf course, on a very public tram and a children’s playground (all of which are standouts).
Unfortunately Maas also dedicates an egregious amount of time to Lizzy and Dave’s troubled relationship, which becomes even more complicated (but not more interesting) when Jack arrives on the scene. Lizzy is a headstrong, intelligent protagonist, but her “will they, won’t they” relationship with Dave and Jack is easily the film’s least interesting subplot. Every time Prey cuts to a scene where they discuss their personal affairs, it’s the cinematic equivalent of pumping the brakes. One gets the sense that Maas is concerned that without the personal plot line the film will be too slight (which may very well be true), but the alternative is a bloated film belaboured with pacing issues.
Thankfully there is enough gore, violence and laughs to sustain audiences through the plodding dramatic scenes. One particularly memorable sequence occurs well past the halfway point of the film and introduces an entirely new character that is a delightful hoot. Seizing on Lizzy’s recommendation that a hunter be hired, the Chief of police mistakenly calls upon his narcissistic cousin (accompanied by his twittering idiot nephew) to set a trap in the city’s famed Vondel Park. What happens to the pair is telegraphed early and is unsurprising in that regard, but the result is so well executed that the entire subplot winds up being both wildly entertaining and hilarious.
One of Prey‘s greatest strengths is that Maas knows how to write and shoot action sequences. The attack sequences are never difficult to follow and Maas frequently adopts a point of view that suggests violence using sprays of blood and gory aftermaths. In this capacity, the attacks are more tense that terrifying and the aftermath makes frequent (and comedic) use of body parts. These practical make-up and prop effects are much more effective than the beast at the center of the chaos; sadly whenever the lion is seen for more than a few seconds it is exclusively in unconvincing CGI.
Poor digital effects and a plodding love triangle storyline aside, Prey is a highly entertaining film. Dick Maas has created a creature feature that is unashamedly full of dumb moments, offensive gore and rude comedy and it’s damn delightful. What more can you ask for from a giant lion flick?