Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Bridget Moynahan, Peter Weller, Carly Schroeder, Conner Dowds, Jamie Bartlett
Directed by Darrell Roodt
Distributed by Genius Products, LLC.
If anything, Prey should prove inspirational to any filmmaker who has ever made a truly awful movie. Hey, if the guy that wrote and directed Dracula 3000 can still get work, then so can you. One would think being responsible for making a film destined for infamy in the annals of bad movie history like the one where Casper Van Dien and Erika Eleniak run around a not-so-futuristic spaceship with pool sticks battling a Knights of Columbus Halloween haunted house quality Dracula and a vampiric, pot smoking Coolio would be enough to kill a career dead. Nope. Darrell Roodt’s back with Prey, a thriller he co-wrote with Jeff Wadlow and Beau Bauman, the writing directing duo behind Cry Wolf. Now they’re crying lion.
Prey is essentially Cujo with lions. You’ve got a woman and kids in need of rescue trapped in a vehicle under siege by hungry lions in a remote location. The lion attacks are pretty realistic; no comical Sci-Fi Channel claw swipe beheadings here. The movie opens with actual footage of a pride of lions chasing down and making a feast out of a zebra, and that’s pretty much what they do to people in this film. The human maulings are pretty gruesome; what’s left of the victims after they’re finished even more so. The filmmakers have used real lions for the most part, along with some pretty realistic puppetry that’s often difficult to spot. Unfortunately, there are one or two very brief shots where we see some pretty fake-looking CGI lions.
Engineer Tom Newman (Robocop‘s Peter Weller, a criminally underused actor who gets criminally underused here as well) heads to Africa with his new, much younger wife, Amy (I, Robot‘s Bridget Moynahan; despite the scenario, the producers still find a way to get her stripped down to her sports bra before it’s over), and his two children from a previous marriage, Jessica and David. Tom’s there on business, but he also thinks this is a primo occasion for the new family to bond. Fourteen-year-old Jessica isn’t happy with her parents’ divorce, and she’s even less happy about her new stepmom. David, meanwhile, seems to just take the entire situation in stride. Perhaps because he too hopes that he’ll one day be able to bag a babe like Bridget Moynahan when he’s middle-aged with kids?
While Tom heads off to help oversee the building of a new dam, stepmom and the kids head off on a sightseeing safari by car. When Jessica whines that they’ve heard more about the animals from their young tour guide than they’ve actually seen first-hand, he decides to deviate from the trail – never a good move. David needs to pee and refuses to do so into a bottle, so the guide has to stop the jeep and accompanies the tyke to a nearby tree, rifle in hand. If I were in a location where urinating required an armed chaperone, I think I’d try holding it in a while, or at least use the bottle.
Sure enough, a trio of lions begin eyeballing David and the tour guide as if they were tasty gazelles. The guide aims his gun at one and tells the frightened lad to slowly back away towards to the jeep. Whether or not this would have gotten them all out of harm’s way we’ll never know because Amy decided she had to do something too, and by something I mean get out of the jeep, start jumping up and down, waving her arms, and screaming, “Over here!” at one of the other lions. I think she was trying to get the attention of the second lion so that it would be less inclined to attack David or the guide. Instead it only succeeded in getting all three lions to go on the attack simultaneously. David and Amy make it back to the jeep safely; the guide ends up dead meat – literally.
Making matters worse, the guide had taken the keys with him, they can’t get a phone signal out in the middle of the African brush, and this jeep doesn’t even have a CB radio in it. No CB radio in a jeep designed to take people on tours through the wilds of Africa? This jeep doesn’t even have a horn, and a horn as it would turn out is something else they could have used at more than one point. What the hell kind of fly-by-night tour group did this family get hooked up with?
As the trio of hungry lions force them to remain holed up inside the jeep, Amy tries to calm the kids by telling them that their dad and the tour company will send a search party out after them when they don’t return from their excursion, but what they don’t know is that no one can go looking for them until the next morning, and even then finding them will be that much harder because they’re off the given tour trail. Tom will eventually be forced to turn to a local tracker for help finding his family, the type of tracker that can pick up a handful of lion dung and deduce how long it’s been since its last feeding and likes giving sarcastic speeches about foolish city slickers from wealthy countries coming to the wilds of Africa and treating it like a zoo. Any possible search and rescue will get even more complicated after Amy retrieves the car keys and speeds off in the jeep like such a madwoman that she actually manages to wreck the jeep even further out in the middle of nowhere. Those determined lions stalk them to the new location, and the cycle starts all over again.
In retrospect, given that it was her antics that seemingly set off the lions in the first place and her crashing the jeep that made their predicament even more dire, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps Amy was an even bigger threat to these kids than the man-eating lions? Her previous moments of stupidity will make her sudden MacGyver-level resourcefulness towards the end that much harder to swallow.
Considering what an incompetent mess – and that’s putting it mildly – Dracula 3000 proved to be, Darrell Roodt definitely deserves credit for getting back to competent filmmaking (the South African filmmaker has previously helmed the South African dramas Dangerous Ground and Cry, The Beloved Country), but he still makes some crucial mistakes, not the least of which is the film’s overall lack of suspense. There’s more genuine tension developed in the relationship between stepmom Amy and stepdaughter Jessica than in almost everything involving the lions stalking them. It doesn’t help that much of the time the lions have little to do other than just lurk somewhere in the vicinity of the car, usually watching their potential prey from a distance with their “lion-vision.” Roodt keeps falling back on giving us the lions’ visually distorted point-of-view, an overused cliché of creature features and killer animal movies that is overused here at times to an almost satirical degree. It also appears that lion eyes possess a zoom lens.
I also couldn’t help but wonder why these predatory lions were spending night and day watching this car in anticipation of when one of the people inside would finally step out of it into the open, and yet during those moments when someone did exit the vehicle for whatever reason, the lions sure took their sweet time before finally deciding to make a dash for their prey.
One of these emergences from the vehicle will lead to the introduction of a pair of poachers, and I must admit that something struck me as being almost a bit unsettling that the makers of this movie would initially try to make you think that the first black Africans this family would encounter upon arriving in Africa might have some malicious intent of their own in mind for these lily white outsiders. This is the whitest Africa I think I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Overall, there’s really nothing wrong with the directing, the writing, or even the acting; the young actress playing daughter Jessica is the real star of the movie. The only knock against Prey is that it’s a very conventional thriller that’s perfectly watchable, yet never particularly engaging, a fairly run-of-the-mill movie that really could have used more bite.
2 1/2 out of 5
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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