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Prey (2017)
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by Jay Seaver

"Fine lions."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Prey" is, make no bones about it, a silly extra-large-animal-attacks-humans movie, but it's one that is quite well aware of precisely what audiences want from that sort of picture. There is not really a single sequence that doesn't play out with exactly the beats that one might expect for this sort of B-movie, which adds up to the film in general playing in the same sort of way. This is thankfully more of an asset than a weakness here - director Dick Maas and company hit familiar genre notes, but hit them fairly well.

After a poor suburban family encounters something wild and hungry, we meet Lizzy (Sophie van Winden), a veterinarian at Amsterdam's Artis Zoo who specializes in large animals, whom she generally considers less troublesome than her recently-discarded-but-still-hopeful ex-boyfriend Dave (Julian Looman). She's called in by Detective Olaf Brinkers (Rienus Krul), who has her name on file for dealing with animal attacks. He's hoping for a coyote or the like; she frightens him by saying it's a lion, larger than average, maybe escaped from some illegal private menagerie. Olaf's boss wants to keep it quiet and have a cousin who has gone on safari handle the situation, but eventually they're going to have to call Lizzy's former colleague (and lover) Jack (Mark Frost), not aware that his last job has left him a little less equipped to hunt down this sort of predator.

The long tradition of people who would ordinarily encounter an actually dangerous animal being menaced by something large and carnivorous isn't exactly distinguished - for every Jaws, there are a great many inferior imitations. Fortunately, director Dick Maas is a B-movie pro, and he hits the right notes at the right moments, so that while the film never really has great moments of surprise and shock, it's very satisfying in terms of execution. There's a certain comfort to being able to see that the people involved know what a killer-animal movie is supposed to do and do that, giving the audience what it wants with just enough color to keep it from being self-parody. The moments of black comedy feel more genuine than ironic.

And, for a small-budgeted movie, he does all right. The cast is by and large capable and amiable, particularly Sophie van Winden as Lizzy. Like the rest of the movie, you know what she's there to do - be bright, get exposition out, get frustrated with men who aren't nearly as smart as her, scream and run but also kick some ass when trapped in a building with a hungry lion - but she does it well and plays off the actors playing more broadly-drawn characters without coming across as the straight woman. Even if the boyfriend often feels unnecessary, Julian Looman sells him well enough, including some of the more eccentric comic bits. Mark Frost makes Jack a pleasant variation on the macho hunter, owning his unusual circumstances without making him a one-joke character. The parts of the ensemble meant to be satisfying rather than tragic cat food (at least, as far as the audience is concerned) go big enough be caricatures, but the sort that you meet on the street rather than the ones that seem constructed for a movie.

Maas has often been able to get a fair amount of production value out of the kind of budget a Dutch movie has, and Prey is no exception. The pace is relaxed between action segments, but it's a glossy, good-looking film. The the lion effects are decent, in that while the CGI lions aren't necessarily quite up to having daylight scenes, they work well enough when there's some shade and cover, while the animatronic lions are impressive. Gore moments are effective without being excessively gruesome - it's a nasty way to die but not to the point where a chase is just a means to serve up splatter.

Folks who like Maas's work and killer-animal movies should find it pretty good, and I know there's more than a few, so enjoy, guys!

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originally posted: 11/22/17 12:09:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/23/17 Vincent gerris Great movie, fun. Loved it!!! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Dick Maas

Written by
  Dick Maas

  Mark Frost
  Bart Klever
  Sophie Van Winden
  Victor Lw

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