Directed by Edwin Brown and based on a screenplay by Brown and his wife Summer, THE PREY is a compelling entry in the slasher genre. It is unique for its nearly languid feel, a sensibility which might frustrate some. Indeed, the central conceit of the characters being “prey” in the most natural sense of the word is a tad overbearing.
But the Browns make things interesting, with characters that feel more representational and less torn from the slasher playbook. While the markers of the genre are definitely present, there’s enough freshness in THE PREY to differentiate it from the herd.
The action takes place in the Rocky Mountains, specifically the Keen Wild national forest. We learn that a group of “gypsies” perished in a massive fire at some point in the late 1940s. Decades later, an older couple is camping when they are slaughtered. Weeks later, our protagonists – three young couples – arrive to spend a little time in nature. These events are, like, totally unrelated.
The forest is watched over by ranger Mark (Jackson Bostwick), who tells jokes to deer and eats cucumber sandwiches. The couples take to the woods and splinter off to various degrees of interpersonal difficulty. Soon enough, there are killings.
The couples are believable and can’t keep their hands off each other. They also show indifference to the natural world. Mark’s alert about the North Point is met with certain apathy. The girls are more interested in how hot the ranger is and the guys want to show off by rappelling down Suicide Peak.
This lack of deference is always in the wind, perhaps never more than when one couple “goes missing” and the remaining couples put it to a vote to see if they’ll move on or not. There are plausible reasons to believe the “missing” couple have wandered off, so it’s not a mindless call, but it still illustrates the conceited perception of humanity’s envisioned dominion over nature.
The Browns present the killer as part of the ecology up on North Point. As the rangers confer in the office – this includes a brilliant scene between Bostwick’s character and a wonderful Jackie Coogan in his final film role – the dynamic between predators and prey unfolds.
THE PREY sometimes makes this too obvious, loading a bunch of stock footage into the mix. We get scenes of snakes gobbling prey, of owls wolfing snakes. There are lingering shots of open spaces, of spots where nature is having its way. At the right dosage, sets the right tone and leads perfectly to the bloody culmination.
But at times it’s a hair overboard and into “we get it” territory. The couples chat in soft tones and conversations just go on and on in a haze, like when they have a fish dinner at the campsite. These scenes don’t spoil the film, but they do lessen tension in spots where less just might be more.