Seemingly inspired by the ‘true’ story of the Giant of Kandahar, a cave-dwelling Biblical giant who fought a gang of US troops in early-2000s Afghanistan, The Prey: Legend of Karnoctus hints at an interesting movie, as Afghani culture is rife with folklore and monsters. Given this history, inventing a demon monster seems a touch unnecessary. Most people know of the Jinn, but the Al, a tusked primate not all that dissimilar to Karnoctus, would make a fascinating foil for the invading Western forces.
Instead, directors Cire and Matthew Hensman craft a fairly basic feature with a central heist plot that is plucked straight from David O. Russell’s Three Kings, which borrows its subterranean-soldiers-versus-killing-machine elements wholesale from Alien, Aliens and Predator. There’s even some Descent thrown in for good measure.
Shot digitally with high-spec cameras, The Prey doesn’t look bad but its lighting never feels natural and the cave isn’t particularly imposing; the cast are left to try and convey some level of peril with limited success. There are no bold choices here; it feels by-the-numbers and the various pieces of plot Frankensteined together don’t really find a way to coexist.
There’s also a strong libertarian message that sits awkwardly. One’s political views can be subtly inserted into a screenplay, gently nestled in character dialogue with nuance and care. This film does not do that, opting instead for a lengthy diatribe about the evils of the Federal Reserve and fairly indiscreet ‘Ban the Fed’ T-shirts. It’s clear that one of the writers has an axe to grind.
All this is not to say that The Prey is bad; it is just about pacy and goofy enough to pass muster. There is a genuine sense of fun at its heart; most of the performances are quite broad and the dialogue is soggy with clichés but some real laugh-out-loud moments help you to feel like you’re laughing with the movie, rather than at it.
The star here is the creature design. The scariest thing about the film is the anticipation of the monstrous foe and exactly how terrible it might look, given how woeful the CG effects used in the gunfight scenes are. The demonic Karnoctus is, thankfully, realised with practical effects and has an honest-to-goodness visceral presence. It is not going to challenge the greats but it looks cool and certainly works within the inner context.
While the limited budget offers plenty of barriers and the bulk of the bigger names are just there for show, fans of action with a twist of gore and a knowing wink will get what they need from The Prey.
Gustavo Sainz de la Peña
7 July 2022