Now Streaming: The Prey (2020) - Reviewed

Jimmy Henderson's latest action film is a retread of a retread that; despite its inherent flaws, manages to produce a carefree viewing experience.  Comparisons to Hard Target, The Hunt, and John Wick are inescapable as Henderson combines a chilling premise with rehashed combat scenes and what begins as a predictable story line.  However, the execution of these familiar elements allows the near satire and surprisingly restrained violence to meld into a jungle ghost story, in which the souls of the damned manifest in unique and interesting ways.  

Xin is an undercover Interpol agent who is arrested in a raid and sent to a remote jungle prison.  There, he faces off with a flamboyantly sadistic warden who chooses him to be part of a game in which the wealthy elite hunt the prisoners for sport.  Henderson's script (with co-writer Michael Hodgson) eschews any sense of depth with the setup.  It is clear that the "game” is between Gu Shangwei's Xin and the Warden, portrayed by Only God Forgives legend Vithaya Pansringarm. The action sequences are fast and brutal, particularly during the intro raid in which several longer takes are weaved together to create a sense of claustrophobia. Once things transition into the jungle, most of the fists to cuffs is intimately close, particularly the film’s best fight scene in which martial arts and gun play are perilously entwined.  

One of the more controversial aspects of the film is in Nophand Bonnyai's character T.  Criticism could be through at a third act twist in which mental health elements surge from the shadows, however, this lends to the "ghost story" aspect of the narrative.  This is a dangerous, haunted place that is ruled by violence.  The impression is that these hunts have been happening for a long time, echoed by one of the film's remarkable posters.  While Xin struggles to maintain a hold on his humanity, the killers face their own crucibles, and T's is without a doubt the most compelling, if jarring.  If approached as a straight up action clone, this is an extremely shallow affair, however the stellar performances of the cast mixed with Lucas Gath's abrasive cinematography transform a lukewarm premise into a labyrinth of shadows, filled with minotaurs of privilege and murderous intent.

Now available via digital on demand, The Prey is an excellent popcorn experience.  While the fight sequences may feel familiar and the plot is deceptively simple, the ambiance that Henderson and his crew create elevates the film above the forgettable Netflix action throwaways with panache.  

--Kyle Jonathan.