Given its rather faith-based leanings, Mukunda Michael Dewil‘s survival drama could also be called Pray. There’s always something mildly repulsive about narratives that credit God for a protagonist’s survival but apportion no blame to Him for putting them into that scrape in the first instance, and it’s even worse when the film itself is a stinker. Aside from the hideous ‘mysterious ways’ subtext, Prey is a train wreck (or plane crash in this instance) of a movie. Every aspect of this dud is a miserable failure, but there do seem to be some extenuating circumstances.

Christian missionaries Andy (Ryan Phillippe) and Sue (Mena Suvari) are forced to leave their station in the Kalahari Desert due to a threat of Islamic extremism. With few options they agree an extortionate price to to fly out with mercenary smuggler Grun (Emile Hirsch). When the plane crashes in the desert, the survivors have to deal with the unforgiving elements, the threat of prowling lions, and the militants who drove them to flee in the first instance.

If the three leads lean towards the spiritual themselves, they may wish to pray to have Prey stricken from their resumes as it does them no favours whatsoever. The limitations of the film are painfully evident; a dire script, cheap production design, and poor direction and editing which never make you believe that humans and beasts are interacting in the same environment, are chief among the many sins committed. It’s a tedious slog of a film that hamstrings its capable performers from the off.

In fairness, Prey is a film that feels like it’s been heavily compromised and left incomplete. There seems to be scenes omitted, green screen effects not fully composited, and acting inconsistencies that point to a limited amount of takes available. One suspects that it simply ran out of funding and it’s been assembled from the remnants. How else to explain no attempt at depicting the crash itself, Hirsch’s wildly pinwheeling performance from manic to laconic, or Phillippe’s character having picked up a nasty injury in between scenes which is never addressed?

But such allowances can only go so far. It’s hard to see how much better the film would have been has it not been on a hiding to nothing. Its messaging remains muddled since not all of its religious characters survive. Is there a piety league table that some failed? Some Book of Job test? It ends with a literal deus ex machina which the wingnuts at the Kingdom Story Company would dismiss as being too crass. And the ineptitude that runs through the film like piss down the Scotsman Steps on a Sunday morning trickles down to the markesting, which has what appears to be a sabre-toothed lion front and centre. It’s an indicator of just how misguided Prey is- and it’s clear there is supposed to be some Biblical analogy – but surely you’re not supposed to want the Christians to be fed to the lions?

Available on streaming services and DVD from Mon 29 Apr 2024