'Prey' Review: A Hungry Lion Goes Dutch for Dinner (Toronto After Dark)

The director of 'Amsterdamned' and 'Sint' returns with more blackly comic carnage.

Prey

Dick Maas is a very particular kind of genre filmmaker. His movies that make a mark outside of the Netherlands typically fall under the “horror” banner, but he’s rarely if ever interested in scaring or even unsettling audiences. Instead, he wants simply to entertain with carnage, wit, and absurdity. The Lift (1983) sees residents and visitors alike terrorized by a building’s devilish elevator. Amsterdamned (1988) follows a detective trying to stop a PADI-certified serial killer through the canals of Amsterdam. Saint (2010) is a heartwarming Christmas tale about an undead St. Nicholas who returns every 36 years to abduct and murder children. All three are entertaining and ridiculous in equal measure, and now Maas is back with another silly but fun as hell “horror” flick.

Prey sets a man-eating African lion loose in the streets of Amsterdam, and no man, woman, or child is safe from its teeth, claws, and insatiable hunger for human flesh. It’s a bloody fun time for all despite some less than ideal CG effects.

A teenager arrives at her rural home after curfew with her horny boyfriend in tow, but while her dad wakes up ready to kick some ass he’s late to the party. Something makes fast work of the couple before taking out the girl’s parents, and it saves room for dessert in the form of the girl’s five-year-old sister. A big animal veterinarian is called in from the zoo, and Lizzy (Sophie van Winden) knows immediately what beast is to blame — she has no clue how a lion has appeared just outside Amsterdam, but she knows it’s bad news that the large predator appears to be heading toward the city. While police and locals scramble Lizzy calls in the one man (Mark Frost) who might just stand a chance at stopping the hungry animal, but can a one-legged, cancer-riddled alcoholic in a wheelchair really defeat the king of the jungle?

Maas is having an absolutely giddy time here, and the high energy fun is infectious as hell. Limbs are lopped, guts spill, we get not one but two chase scenes involving the lion and a motorized vehicle, and unlike most of his contemporaries Maas is unafraid to kill off a kid or two amidst the bloody mayhem. (There may even have been a third during a thrilling tram attack, but it’s unclear if the toddler made it out alive.) The action beats are exciting and well-staged, but while ostensibly an animal-attack thriller the damn thing also works quite well as a horror/comedy. There are fun physical gags alongside some witty dialogue exchanges, and Maas shows his love for all things blackly comic.

Van Winden offers up a smart and vibrant turn as the vet dealing with more than just a rogue lion. Her boyfriend Dave (Julian Looman) is an immensely likable scoundrel, and her ex Jack (Frost) is missing a leg — a lion ate it a few years back — but overflowing with charm and energy. Maas’ script wisely avoids spending too much time on what could have been a misplaced love triangle and instead rightfully treats the various feelings and possible tensions as secondary to the matter at hand. We know Jack’s lonely, Dave’s insecure, and Lizzy just wants to stop this damn lion, but the film never feels the need to pause the main story line for their woes.

The only real misstep in Prey is unfortunately a big enough one that it’s guaranteed to be a deal-breaker for some viewers. The lion is a mix of CG effects and puppetry with the former making up the bulk of the animal’s appearances. It’s a necessity as shooting with live animals, particularly wild ones like lions, just isn’t feasible these days, but while the CG is passable you’re never unaware that you’re looking at a cartoon lion. That and some dodgy green-screen during the wheelchair chase are rare visual stumbles in an otherwise bright, attractive, and gleefully gory movie.

Prey is great fun provided you can swallow the CG and just roll with the carnage-filled romp.

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