Editor’s Note: The Prey opens in limited release on Friday, May 31st
Long has the genre hybrid been the refuge of the uninspired: it’s not for no reason that the overwhelming majority of successful cabin-in-the-woods horrors now are in fact horror comedies; the repetitive formulae of genre filmmaking wears audiences down, and often the easiest way to renew those formulae is to merge them with others. That’s precisely the aim of Eric Valette’s The Prey, which begins life akin to Dog Pound and ends it more like Stolen, and thus uses elements of the identities of two of this year’s films to find one of its own. That’s not to say it does so with any success, of course, and Valette’s mish-mashing of prison and chase narratives by way of an escape plot ably proves that just being different isn’t the shortcut to being any good.
Franck doesn’t find nuance in Duponel’s performance so much as he does a blank stare; defined as he is by little more than his solitary goal, he can only be met by Duponel’s look of confusion at each new plot point, and a great deal of running.
Irreversible alumnus Albert Duponel takes the lead as convicted bank robber Franck, whom we first meet biding his time until his impending release will allow him to reunite with his wife and young daughter. A good guy despite his criminal proclivities—he earns an extra six months early on for fighting off a trio of Russians attacking his cellmate, whose child molestation conviction is to be imminently overturned—Franck doesn’t find nuance in Duponel’s performance so much as he does a blank stare; defined as he is by little more than his solitary goal, he can only be met by Duponel’s look of confusion at each new plot point, and a great deal of running. Last seen in the affably Allenesque comedy Paris-Manhattan, Alice Taglioni takes a far tougher role here, playing the hardened detective tasked with Franck’s recapture after he escapes. Scorned by her superior for allowing what he dismisses as feminine intuition to stand in the way of the job, she is one of the film’s all-too-few interesting characters, underexplored though her integral issues may be.
It’s not entirely fair to judge The Prey on its dramatic failures, its generic constitution considered: this is first and foremost thriller territory, and despite efforts to engage on a darker level with the characters—one, thanks to a mid-point twist, quite successful—Valette is concerned primarily with setting this story in the realm of action thrills. The key problem is that he’s ill equipped to do so, the film never managing the smooth craftsmanship necessary to immerse us in its fast-paced plot and excite us with the occasional arrival of a sizeable set-piece. That’s primarily courtesy of the abrupt, erratic score by musician Noko, whose songs have appeared quite unobtrusively in several other films, but whose original composition is—at best—egregious. More fitting of a sex comedy than a thriller, the music serves only to exacerbate the film’s many tonal failings as Franck’s desperate cross-country fleeing is made to seem entirely farcical by the oddly optimistic notes.
Evidently intent on spicing up a thriller plot as old as the hills, Laurent Turner and Luc Bossi’s script does more damage than good, its halves thrown together so loosely they might be from entirely different films altogether.
There’s an appreciable impact to much of the film’s violence, however, and Valette has a fine ability to play his actors’ physicality to reflect the literal pain they encounter, if not quite the emotional. Particularly when still within the confines of the prison, his action more intimate and aggressive, he conveys the gruesome bloodiness of violence, one particular fight scene sure to see those less-hardened viewers turn from the screen. Indeed, the more open and unconfined the story grows, the less successful is its action: the climactic cliff-top set-piece, for instance, is as hideous to behold as it is haphazard, the comparable camera manoeuvrability not gifting Valette freedom so much as it does the ability to indulgence himself, and thereby to alienate us.
Evidently intent on spicing up a thriller plot as old as the hills, Laurent Turner and Luc Bossi’s script does more damage than good, its halves thrown together so loosely they might be from entirely different films altogether. In fact that’s precisely how it seems when we meet Taglioni in the midst of another investigation which we see unfold at much more length than ought to be afforded something so tangential; it’s almost as if the character was welcomed in from an abandoned draft discovered in the bottom of a desk drawer. As such, The Prey’s efforts to mask its own familiarity draw just as much attention to it as does the uninspired title: this is a remarkably dull movie, and it knows it.
[notification type=”star”]42/100 ~ BAD. The Prey’s efforts to mask its own familiarity draw just as much attention to it as does the uninspired title: this is a remarkably dull movie, and it knows it.[/notification]