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MOVIE REVIEW: FRANCK KHALFOUN’S “PREY” IS AS UNIMAGINATIVE AS ITS TITLE

Sunday, October 6, 2019 | Review

Starring Logan Miller, Kristine Froseth and Jolene Anderson
Written by Franck Khalfoun, David Coggeshall
Directed by Franck Khalfoun
Blumhouse Productions

Considering the extortionate amount of films generically called “Prey”, it’s unfortunate that Franck Khalfoun’s newest endeavor live up to the banality of such an overused title. Whether running for one’s life in 2013’s “THE PREY”, dueling wild boars in 2010’s “THE PREY”, fighting ravenous lions in 2007’s “PREY”, surviving a night in the woods with 1984’s “THE PREY” or fending off alien stalkers in 1977’s “PREY”—the word has lost its once primal punch. Hell, there are even two more features releasing this year entitled “PREY” and “THE PREY” respectively. If that’s not enough, there was the recent television series “PREY” and the excellent video game “PREY”, not to mention its unrelated successor of the same name. Typically, when a film is slapped with an oft-rehashed moniker, it can be for a variety of reasons. They needed something simple albeit “catchy”. They didn’t know how to market it with a stronger title. They didn’t have faith in the product. Or, in many cases, it’s a combination of all three. Unfortunately, Khalfoun’s newest project (from blockbuster giant Blumhouse) is a promotion-less, direct to VOD horror flick that’s rather . . . DOA.

When his father is murdered by thieves looking for a sweet ride, Toby (Logan Miller) is enrolled in a program wherein troubled teens are stranded on an island (I’m serious) in hopes they might turn their bitter selves around. Following his beachside arrival however, Toby comes to find that survival ain’t easy—especially when someone or something is lurking about the trees; watching with malefic intent.

Coming from Franck Khalfoun, the director of the perfectly sleazy (and uber stylish) remake of MANIAC, I hoped he’d return to his morbidly stunning roots with another unflinching journey into darkness. In PREY howbeit, the thematic shade has been lifted in favor of a narrative that plays to a young adult crowd looking for a safe diversion; one with light spooks and predictable plotting. It’s a shame the picture is so bland because at its core, there’s a seed of a good idea. It’s just buried beneath a far less interesting story marred by logical gaps and an uninspired protagonist.

The movie’s basic premise is established on loose foundation. Following the death of Toby’s father, he’s placed into a youth program for young adults with behavioral issues. Yet, from the few seconds he’s been onscreen since the opening, he’s exhibited zero destructive tendencies and barely any teenage angst beyond ignoring his father in favor of playing on his cell phone. After the tragedy (and while in mourning) he’s immediately shipped out to sea where the fruition of the program sees each teen stranded alone on one of several neighboring islands. Now, I’m not an expert, but I’ve never heard of an initiative that takes inexperienced teens, forgoes any actual survival training, dumps them on an island with little to no resources, and then tells them that they must survive for three days completely solitary. Even discounting the inevitable horror element, my suspension of disbelief was already suffering with the lack of reasoning. There’s not even something as simple as a montage of events showcasing Toby gradually becoming knowledgeable in survivalist skills. PREY simply jumps from an expository scene explaining the program to a handful of boat-riding vignettes before capping off with a side-character literally telling Toby/the audience “You’ve changed so much in the last two weeks.” Really? Did he? Because we—the viewer—didn’t get to see that. Toby even has nightmares in which his father’s killers attack him in the same stabby fashion. Yet, Toby never witnessed the killers—nor his father’s stabbing. It’s content that might’ve sounded good in the pitch—but wasn’t properly thought out in the script.

Toby arrives to the perceived paradise of isolation only to immediately fail at every task no matter how minute. This once again begs the question of just what in the world he was being taught during those revelatory “two weeks”. One would assume that if a student can’t repeat a fundamental lesson, they probably shouldn’t be abandoned in the wilderness for days on end. But I digress. Toby soon realizes he’s not alone when he witnesses a potential threat obscured by the jungle’s foliage and passes out from sick-heavy exhaustion. Upon waking, he discovers a young woman named Madeleine (Kristine Froseth) who’s managed to persevere on the lonely atoll (not to mention remain completely clean and manicured without either electricity or plumbing). Desperately in need of a mentor, the two befriend one another and she begins teaching him the ways of the wild. But there’s still that unfinished business involving the peculiar threat prowling about the dense bush. . .

From here, PREY becomes a standard collection of fright-less “boo!” scares and a dribble of PG-13 level violence for good measure. The attempts at misdirection don’t necessarily work either as the beginning credits and woefully standard direction telegraph the reveals before the plot gets to them. The ill-conceived structure of the first act gives way to a dull second which declines into a third act of YA-horror check boxes that lack any surprise. It’s commendable of Khalfoun and writer David Coggeshall to try their hand at a horror film that unites several subgenres into one, but the end result feels half-baked. Truthfully, Toby’s entire storyline comes off as weak and unnecessary. Had the narrative focused solely on Madeleine, the mystery surrounding a forgotten missionary excursion and her link to it—I believe PREY could have been a far more compelling feature. This would have allowed the meatier points divulged in the climax to be properly explored, rather than shoehorned in as exposition.

PREY isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just below average and unmemorable. It might serve as a distraction for those needing an island-horror fix before the next flick of the same ilk (SWEETHEART) arrives from the very same studio, but there’s nothing Khalfoun has recorded that’s worthy of repeat viewings. Here’s hoping the next dozen films called “PREY” will fare better.

Bryan Yentz
Is a cinematic fanatic, writer and artist with a soft-spot for all things horror.