The people-hunting-people premise is a mainstay of movies, and for good reason. It’s a straightforward setup that can be contoured to fit any genre and budget. Though long relegated to the bargain bin of action and horror movies, the human hunt is currently seeing an unusually creative period with the release of films like The Hunt and Ready or Not.
Now it’s time to add Jimmy Henderson’s tension-soaked The Prey to the growing list of inspired movies that find folks picking up some guns to go after the most dangerous game.
Undercover cop Xin (Gu Shangwei) is having a bad day. While dropping off a cash payment to his criminal bosses, he’s rounded up by police and shipped to an off-the-grid prison on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. This international nowhere is run by a sadistic warden (Vithaya Pansringarm) who makes money on the side, letting rich douchebags hunt his inmates. So, with Xin in custody, it’s not long before he and a small group of criminals are sprinting through the jungle, trying to outrun the hunters on their heels.
Over the course of its runtime, The Prey delivers its fair share of memorable fistfights and shootouts. What may surprise viewers is the thoughtfulness at play between set pieces. Henderson’s simple setup allows him and his cast the freedom to enjoy the dialogue and interactions. As the warden, Pansringarm (Only God Forgives, A Prayer Before Dawn) leans into the weird with tightly-controlled glee. Nophand Boonyai also brings his A-game as T. His mental slide becomes one of the highlights of the film’s third act.
Henderson also has something to say about the element of mistrust between the Khmer and Thai people. The script has a lot of fun with the language barrier and highlights a cultural tension unfamiliar to most Westerners (definitely had to pause the film to do some Googling).
The Prey doesn’t do everything right. Tonally, it’s all over the place. While Henderson and his cast typically hit their emotional marks, the film’s willingness to careen between a knuckle-headed action movie and a slow-burn thriller is a little disorienting. What’s more, Xin’s undercover cop handlers (or even the fact he’s a cop, in general) feels as tacked on as a lady scientist in a Michael Bay movie. Those shortcomings fall away, however, because The Prey ultimately remains true to its action film baseline. The philosophy is nice, the performances are a pleasant surprise, but at the end of the day, you’re here to watch Xin whip some ass. And on that note, The Prey delivers.
The Prey lands on your favorite streaming platforms on August 25.