The folks at Jason Blum’s house of low-budget horror movies have enjoyed a remarkable string of successes—financially, at least (and some even good!)—but it’s highly unlikely that this Malaysia-shot effort from Franck Khalfoun will be entered into their winning column. “Prey” might more accurately be titled “Pray”—as in, pray you don’t have to sit through it.
Logan Miller, most recently seen as Jim Gaffigan’s scheming son in “Being Frank,” here plays Toby, a self-absorbed Orlando teen who quickly faces tragedy when he ignores the request of his dad (Anthony Jensen) that he come out to the garage so they can continue working on the car they’ve apparently had since the boy was a mere tyke. While Toby sullenly continues texting instead, his dad is gunned down in the driveway by a bunch of guys dressed—if you can believe it—in monkey costumes. Toby is suitably horrified when he investigates and finds his father’s body.
The perpetrators are, it seems, quickly rounded up, but Toby’s emotional distress leads to his being signed up for a “teen adventure” program that involves sailing the Pacific with other similarly-troubled youth to work out their problems. As a particularly ridiculous stage of the itinerary, each kid is dropped off on an uninhabited island to fend for himself for a week, learning, one supposes, a degree of self-reliance.
It turns out that Toby’s island isn’t entirely free of occupants. We’re not talking about the monkey that steals his food (darned monkeys everywhere!), but a girl named Madeleine (Kristine Froseth), who obviously has been living there quite awhile and has the survival skills Toby so conspicuously lacks. She’s initially kind of standoffish, but before long the two are gamboling about in the dense underbrush like a couple out of “The Blue Lagoon,” and he’s becoming more adept in living off the land.
Nut Toby soon discovers there’s a major problem. Madeleine isn’t alone; she’s there with her mother (Jolene Anderson), who—she explains—is unbalanced, even dangerous. What seemed to be at point of becoming a waterlogged teen romance turns into a thriller—as is demonstrated when the program’s director (Jerrica Lai) returns to pick Toby up, and Cameron (Phodiso Dintwe) another of the program participants, suddenly shows up, apparently having swum over from his own island, to perform a plot function similar to that of Scatman Crothers in “The Shining.”
But that’s not all. Via flashbacks to the time when Madeleine and her mom came to the island along with a whole tour group (joining other periodic flashbacks to young Toby puttering around on their car with his dad), it’s revealed that the island is in the grip of some malignant force embodied in a shrine associated with the place’s ancient inhabitants. The demonic power can possess anyone who comes into contact with it, and Toby will have to battle it in order to survive. Or will he? In cliché-ridden stuff like this one can always expect a last-minute twist ending, and Khalfoun doesn’t disappoint—in that respect, at least.
“Prey” looks as though it were made on a budget even lower than the ones for most Blumhouse product, and you have to admire cinematographer Eric Robbins’ ability to keep the action relatively clear under the circumstances, even when characters are thrashing about in the foliage or under the waves. It can’t have been an easy shoot, so congratulations are also due to the cast, especially Miller and Froseth, for making it through (although probably not unscathed). No such praise, however, is due the special effects folks, whose work looks really chintzy.
“Prey” will appear in a few theatres, but its natural home is on streaming services, where one should look out for it—for reasons of avoidance.