Though survival horror works on a straightforward premise, it’s one ripe for potentially brutal stakes. To date, Deliverance remains a potent early example of the subgenre. In recent years, we’ve seen horror tinker with the narrative in some underrated gems including The Ritual, Downrange, and Killing Ground. And while there’s probably still plenty of straight-to-VOD survival horror movies populated by backwoods hillbilly cannibals, even this year’s Wrong Turn remake ditched that particular trope. Netflix’s latest horror import, the German-produced Prey also looks like it has ditched the ‘rural other’ killer from its story of five friends fighting for survival in the woods. Unfortunately, everything else about this survival horror thriller looks run-of-the-mill.
Five men take a hiking trip through deep woods to celebrate their friend’s upcoming wedding. But when the group makes it back to their car an unseen assailant begins shooting at them. Their hopes that they’ve simply stumbled on a hunter unaware of their presence are dashed when one of their own is shot in cold blood. With no way to call for help, the friends scramble to escape the woods while a killer mercilessly stalks them.
Prey Colors Inside the Lines of Its Survival Horror Premise
What instantly stands out about Prey is just how blatantly similar its basic story is to other survival horror movies. While more recent examples of the sub-genre – like The Ritual or What Keeps You Alive – introduced interesting kinks to the narrative, Prey is a paint-by-numbers effort. If you know the sub-genre, you’ll get exactly what you expect on screen. Five city folk venture into the woods, bad things happen to them. It’s Deliverance, A Lonely Place to Die, Preservation, Killing Ground, Rituals – just about any survival horror set in the woods. Writer and director Thomas Sieben does try to introduce a story thread between its brothers as another layer to the movie. But the flashbacks just disrupt the movie’s tension and the sub-plot ultimately amounts to little.
As Prey hits its final act, however, the movie falls apart.
Fortunately, Sieben squeezes out some tension from the lean story. He also wastes little time putting his hikers into danger. That in combination with the mystery around the killer’s identify and motive creates genuine suspense. An early reveal of the killer proves to be genuinely unexpected. Moreover, Prey teases a bit of teeth with a couple of early, gruesome deaths. Like the killer’s reveal, there’s some genuine shock in these scenes. As Prey hits its final act, however, the movie falls apart. Much of its early tension gives way to some very underwhelming exposition. In addition, the climax feels more perfunctory than thought-provoking.
Prey Shoots and Misses on Two Potentially Interesting Story Threads
Perhaps Prey falls victims to mixed ambitions. As mentioned above, Sieben devotes quite a few flashbacks and present-time tension to the relationship between the movie’s brothers. One might even initially suspect that this terse relationship connects to Prey’s mystery killer. And for the first 30 minutes or so, these two story threads add a layer of mystery that nearly elevates Prey above rote familiarity. Too bad Sieben opts for art-house ambiguity in place of something more satisfying. That is, Prey’s killer mystery is unconnected and underwhelming, while Sieben offers no pay-offs to those character tensions.
Too bad Sieben opts for art-house ambiguity in place of something more satisfying.
Much like the movie itself, the is cast is uniformly fine if not unremarkable. Given that Prey is a German-produced movie, audiences aren’t likely to recognize any of the actors. And it may take a while to figure out who’s who in the movie. It doesn’t help that Sieben plots an early exit his most interesting, recognizable character. If there’s any compensation, however, Sieben does avoid lazy character tropes. As the movie’s mystery killer, Maria Ehrich just doesn’t have the presence to add any menace or tension. In all fairness, this isn’t a slight direct Ehrich herself. Rather Sieben’s script gives the character little to do other than fill space and wait for a pointless reveal.
Prey Proves to Be Watchable, If Not Entirely Forgettable
Neither particularly good nor outright awful, Prey is pretty middle-of-the-road fare. In fact, it’s kind of remarkable just unremarkable the movie feels by its conclusion. Despite some early shocks that hint at a more brutal, hard-hitting movie, Prey can’t decide what type of movie it is. The movie’s subplot clearly wants to take the movie in a more art-house direction. But it’s a direction that offers no pay-off. And there isn’t enough edgy violence to qualify as an exploitation movie. It’s a watchable movie from start to finish – you just may not remember watching it.