Ever since Jaws first made a splash in 1975, people have been trying to reclaim its glory. First there was William Girdler’s Grizzly in 1976 about a larger than life bear that terrorized a sweet little state park, ravaging everything in its path, and then there was Joe Dante’s Piranha in 1978, a movie about a killer school of – you guessed it, piranhas, and so on and so forth throughout the years. Now, Dick Maas (Saint, Amsterdamned) is taking a stab at the giant killer animal movie with his Amsterdam set Prey, a comedy about what happens when a gigantic lion is set loose on an unsuspecting city, filled with people who refuse to admit just what exactly it is that is hunting them down and picking them off, one by one.
In the film, a zoo veterinarian named Lizzy is called the case when bodies keep popping up all over Amsterdam with mysterious animal-like wounds having appeared on their body. Unsure of what could’ve caused such massive destruction in a normally peaceful suburb of the world, she makes the case that only a lion could have imposed such a travesty, but out in the everyday landscape of houses and apartment complexes and businesses, of course, such a claim is quickly dismissed, and the vet is made to look a fool. It’s not until the body count really starts to escalate and eye witnesses begin reporting a massive beast chasing them down the streets that any sort of seriousness is taken into account, and people begin to realize that they should’ve listened to the lady they scoffed at without a second thought.
Of course, being taken seriously by the public isn’t the only obstacle that this poor vet must conquer. Her cheating ex-boyfriend Dave wants her back, and as much as she tries to ward him off with insults and dismissal after dismissal, he still hungers for what he can’t have. It appears that in this story, our lady vet isn’t just falling prey to the lust of the lion, but also to the desire of every single out of control animal around her.
Determined not to make the same mistake twice, Lizzy ignores her pursuer, Dave, while simultaneously hunting down another predator, and to make matters even more complicated, calls upon her old flame, wildlife connoisseur ex Jack to help her solve the case. Now she really is the bait of this story, in more ways than one. Dangling above all those who try to tear her down to size, including the press, the public, the police, and her myriad old lovers, Lizzy is made to look like fresh meat, but if she’s going to get out of this thing alive, she has no choice but to focus on her own target – the lion, a.k.a. the only objective that truly matters in this ever expanding crazy scenario. It’s up to her to stop the beast in its tracks before it wipes out all those she loves and cares about for good, and there’s no one left to fill this love triangle that she’s found herself so tangled within.
This should be a good movie. It has all the right ingredients – a love triangle, a hungry beast, occasional well-placed humor, and a decent cast – but somehow, it falls just short of success. Unfortunately, this film, like many that have come before it, fail to take into account the biggest reason for Steven Spielberg’s success – the tension. Of course, Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, so comparing anyone to him at all is somewhat unfair, but when you choose to make a movie about a giant animalistic beast that hunts down humans until it is inevitably destroyed, you’re choosing to allow people to make that comparison. Those who are a fan of Bruce the shark will remember that we never get a full shot of the creature’s entire body until the very end of the film – and that’s saying something for a film that is over two hours long. The fear that we feel throughout is because of the reactions of Brody, and his son, and the mayor, and Hooper. Even the scene where Quint merely recalls the time he was hunted down by sharks as he floated helplessly in the ocean while trying to deliver the bomb is terrifying, just because of the look in his eyes when he says it. There’s no flashback to the scene or even a single shot of the shark he’s talking about. All of the scares lie within the tension; within the anticipation of the event. That’s what so many filmmakers have failed to realize about the movie monster that has inspired them, and sadly, Dick Maas is just the latest director to make that mistake by showing his lion in its entirety too early, too often, and depicting him with far too much CGI.
Prey has its moments – watching Lizzy talk down to the men who pursue her offers its laughs, especially when her old boyfriend rolls into town and makes fools of everyone around him who underestimates him. The opening scene is pretty great as well, as an unknown force sloppily rips an unsuspecting family apart, but at the end of the day, Prey will just fall in line with the many other movies that have tried to mimic Jaws, and failed.