Director: Franck Khalfoun
Writer: David Coggeshall, Franck Khalfoun
Producer: Ashok Amritraj, Jason Blum, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff
Stars: Logan Miller, Kristine Froseth, Jolene Anderson, Jerrica Lai, Phodiso Dintwe, Anthony Jensen, Vela Cluff
A grieving teen’s therapy program sends him to rough it alone on a deserted island where he encounters an unusual girl hiding a monstrous secret.
Toby has better things to do than help dear old dad tune up the vintage muscle car in their driveway. So it goes that Toby ends up watching a YouTuber dump four liters of cola down his gullet while dejected dad gets stabbed in his stomach outside.
I don’t know why two masked carjackers would want to needlessly add murder to their rap sheet when a pipe to the head would have done just fine. Maybe that’s “Prey” starting early on feeding its audience a steady diet of story beats whose motivations shouldn’t be examined too closely for logic.
I also don’t know what kind of therapy program sends troubled teens from Florida to rough it alone on uninhabited islands in Malaysia. That can’t be cost effective. Nor do I know why they would drop off Toby for a three-day solo stay with only a sleeping bag, tarp, flashlight, and one flare. No first aid kit or satellite phone for medical emergencies? Gee, I sure hope Toby doesn’t cut himself or— wait, yep, that’s the very first thing that happens.
Surprise! It turns out Toby’s deserted island isn’t as deserted as he was told. On day two, he meets Madeleine, a former missionary’s daughter who has survived in seeming solitude since childhood. What a coincidence, she’s 16 years old too. The castaway couple cutely bonds as Madeleine teaches Toby how to hack coconuts, spear fish, and sharpen sticks during a montage interspersed with long smiles at each other in front of a sunset. I sure hope nothing bad happens to these two budding lovebir- wait, yep, here comes the hook of horror.
While Madeleine’s missionary father may be dead, her mother most certainly is not. Madeleine warns Toby to stay out of the forest or else her mother will kill him. That’s not the only danger this island hides. In addition to a skull-masked figure stalking in the trees, cave paintings hint at a creature even more frightening. Madeleine clearly hasn’t told Toby the whole story, and her connection to a native cult’s curse could be the most fearsome threat of all.
“Prey” shares roughly 75% of its core DNA with “Sweetheart,” another Blumhouse production where someone stranded on a supposedly isolated island unexpectedly fights for survival against a monster. Should you see both, whichever you watch first will likely come across as the better movie.
“Prey” has the bad luck of being the flick I screened second. It has the additional misfortune of being dropped to VOD within three weeks of “Sweetheart,” a curious timing decision I have to assume was beyond Blumhouse’s control. Independent of the other, I might have dismissed “Prey” as another inoffensively average attempt at tap water terror. Seeing as I recently went through an identical experience with a different survivor on a similar island, “Prey” feels even more redundantly routine.
Casting Logan Miller as the lead probably constitutes “Prey’s” shrewdest move. Miller’s persona of manic mouthiness, somewhat describable as “Robert Downey Jr. Lite,” makes Toby’s habit of talking to himself seem less like a pure screenplay conceit to convey exposition during initial scenes where he is the only human onscreen.
Being the primary person on a roster of only three main characters also means the movie can’t get any mileage out of early attempts at tension. Just 35 minutes into the runtime, Toby investigates an overturned boat. Holding his breath underwater, Toby goes to leave only to find the exit door’s handle jammed! Toby finds another way out but catches his clothes on that door’s handle! Percussion pounds on the soundtrack as bubbles burst out of Toby’s panicked mouth! Are we supposed to believe drowning is a genuine possibility and end credits could come before the film even hits feature length?
That’s “Prey” for you. It’s set on a solitary island, yet conveniently works in ways for barely relevant people to serendipitously wander in wearing blinking lights that scream, “monster fodder here!” And of course it takes until the last act to finally find out what’s really going on because the two mystery ladies are incapable of speaking straight through conspicuously cryptic warnings.
Movies structured this predictably are commonly called “paint-by-numbers,” except “Prey” has only dull shades of grey on its palette. The kindest cut I can give it is to say “Prey” is fully functional as a formulaic fright film. At the same time though, it’s also wholly forgettable.
Review Score: 45