The Prey

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Prey
"The fight scenes are kept fairly simple, the focus not on gimmicky set pieces but on doing simple things really well." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

It began in 1932 with the first film adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game. Now, almost a century later, there must be enough films about humans hunting humans for a dedicated festival. Plot-wise they don't vary very much. There's little room for subtle character development. What they are is vehicles for a certain kind of action director, and when they're shot with style, they can make for awesome viewing.

The Prey, screening at this year's Fantasia International Film Festival, is such a film. It's helped by the presence of martial arts star Gu Shangwei, making his film d├ębut as undercover cop Xin, who is prepared to spend time in jail as part of his job but not prepared for what comes next. This is a place where prisoners can easily go missing. Most of the time, no-one cares. So every now and again, some of them are sold to a private enterprise which takes them out into the jungle and invites rich people to shoot at them for fun.

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There's an additionally disturbing quality about these particular jungles in that they are places where similar things happened for real just a few decades ago. It's impossible to escape the echo of Khmer Rouge atrocities in a film that isn't shy about addressing corruption in today's world. Out in remote areas, villagers remain vulnerable. It doesn't take long for one of the hunters here to recruit a local man and his son to be his guides. Xin and the other prisoners are not the only ones we have to fear for.

Gu maybe a newcomer but he has natural screen presence. The fight scenes are kept fairly simple, the focus not on gimmicky set pieces but on doing simple things really well, and the 37-year-old is a good enough actor to impress with his stunt work whilst showing us the impact of injury and fatigue on Xin's body; he's exciting to watch in part because he never seems invulnerable.

Although he was born in Italy, director Jimmy Henderson has lived in Cambodia for most of the past decade and knows the environment well. He knows how to make it work on camera and expertly avoids the issues - extremes of light and dark, lenses fogging up - that best many filmmakers shooting action scenes in such conditions. His work doesn't look like that of filmmakers born in the region, however, his European influences giving him something distinctive.

Also notable here - though it would be nice if it weren't so unusual - is the presence of a deaf character (the local boy) who communicates using sign language. This adds an interesting layer of complexity to communications as assorted characters come together to try and resolve an increasingly desperate situation.

The Prey is an old story told with real verve. Henderson't direction and editing are tight throughout. The sometimes shaky dramatic scenes are easily forgiven in light of the rest. The adrenaline-soaked struggle for survival really delivers.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2019
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Prisoners in a remote jungle prison are pawns in a high stakes game of human-hunting.

Director: Jimmy Henderson

Writer: Jimmy Henderson, Michael Hodgson, Kai Miller

Starring: Vithaya Pansringarm, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Byron Bishop, Dara Our, Dy Sonita, Nophand Boonyai, Vandy Piseth, Rous Mony, Gu Shangwei, Hun Sophy, Vithaya Pansringarm, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Byron Bishop, Dara Our, Dy Sonita

Year: 2018

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Cambodia


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