Blu-ray Review: The Prey (2011)

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A Hollywoodized French thriller, One Missed Call director Eric Valette lets his movie’s mostly star-spangled banner of influences proudly wave over the course of The Prey’s fast-moving 105 minute running time.

A brutal yet efficient work of Hitchcock-in-Hollywood-era infused Fugitive style suspense, The Prey transcends its all-too-familiar recycled plot-points thanks to the magnetism of its leads and heart-stopping action choreography that rivals some of America’s big budget best.

After Franck (Albert Dupontel), our imprisoned bank robber antihero breaks his personal code of ethics of keeping his head down, doing his time in silence and not trusting anyone, he finds he’s placed his entire family in danger after his unrelenting sense of human decency forces him to intervene when three men enter his cell and start beating his cellmate to death.

A convicted pedophile and child rapist who swears he’s innocent, after the unquestionably tough Franck gets involved, he lets his guard down and allows the man he saved (Stephane Debac) to deliver a coded message to his financially strapped wife and daughter that alludes to the whereabouts of the stolen bank loot he stashed before his arrest.

After the rape victim rescinds her testimony and Debac is released early, Franck is visited by an obsessive Gendarme Captain who hasn’t stopped working Debac’s case, warning Franck that the seemingly meek man he knows as Jean-Louis Maurel is in all-actuality an active predatory serial killer who’s not only eluded capture and conviction thus far but has also made Franck’s family his next target.

Escaping from prison just months before his scheduled release, the quick-thinking Franck finds his worst fears realized when he discovers his wife and daughter have been taken and the money is gone.

Relying on his street-smarts and any inside knowledge he has on Maurel that he can use to his advantage, he sets out to hunt him down – a feat made that much harder when Maurel turns the tables on Franck and pins his crimes on him, sending the police after our put-upon lead.

While most of the force is happy to simply add one and one together, Alice Taglioni’s brainy, beautiful detective Claire relies on instinct, knowing that something about this new math doesn’t calculate. Chided for putting “feminine intuition” over Maurel’s planted DNA of Franck's, Claire follows up on her hunches, which adds an interesting police procedural plotline to what was otherwise shaping up to be a Taken meets any number of formulaic good guy vs. bad guy hunter vs. hunted by-the-numbers B-movies.

Elevated by the arresting performances of the ensemble cast including an absolutely chilling turn by Natacha Regnier as Maurel’s complicit partner-in-crime wife who procures female victims for her husband – while the unsettling subject matter and rather bloodily gruesome fight scenes are carefully edited to avoid turning exploitative, The Prey is nonetheless best to be avoided by more sensitive viewers and perhaps best suited for daytime viewing for the nightmare-prone.

At the same time, perhaps far too hopeful to evoke fear –  the film’s repetitive-to-annoyance insistent Bernard Herrmann style score overstays its welcome early on – losing its effectiveness by punctuating far too many scenes with the same pounded out “Are You Scared Yet?” thematic riffs over and over.

And while a few plot-points (including a stakeout by a pharmacy) are a dubious contrivance at best, The Prey still manages to keep you engrossed thanks to its effectively edited sense of urgency in the film's pacing and the unwavering passion for the project as embodied by a truly gifted cast of actors that lose themselves in their roles.

Offering viewers a choice of watching Valette’s 2011 thriller in its original French soundtrack or dubbed English language version to try and attract an even wider audience of subtitle weary action fans in its recent Blu-ray release, the Cohen Media Group distributed title also offers an interview with the director, a look at the theatrical trailer as well as a behind-the-scenes making-of-featurette.

Given a technically impressive transfer to disc, while Valette’s Prey may not offer much that an avid action movie fan hasn’t seen before, by following in the footsteps of Tell No One and other recent French thrillers, it nonetheless reminds viewers that the tale of a man on the run trying to save his family is compelling film fodder in any country and every language.   

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