Prey (2022)

About 20 minutes into Prey, I made an offhand comment to my wife.

“This seems more like a Disney movie than a horror movie.”

A few momnets later, Barb replied, “Good call. It’s from 20th Century Studios, owned by Disney.”

Therein lies the rub.

Co-writer and director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) has assembled a violent, R-rated action movie that nonetheless features a headstrong and resourceful heroine who isn’t satisfied with her gender-defined role in life.

Prey also provides new management for the Predator series, which has been floundering since Schwarzenegger flew the coop. Here, an interstellar big-game hunter makes a landing in early 18th century America, amongst a tribe of sturdy Comanches.

Naru (Amber Midthunder), is a bad-ass hunter and tracker who wants to be a warrior. Unfortunately, she lives in the shadow of her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), the tribe Alpha Male.

In a refreshing turn, Taabe is actually supportive of his sister, speaking highly of her skills to his fellow hunters.

His encouragement pays off, as Naru is the only one with the smarts to figure out that whatever is killing nearby wildlife is not a bear or a mountain lion.

Eventually, Naru gets her most fervent wish: to hunt something that is simultaneously hunting her.

Prey is visually stimulating and full of arboreal wonder as the tale and the landscape itself unfold without the presence of Western man—except for some dastardly French trappers who get in the way of the Predator’s safari.

As for the main monster itself, we don’t get any major developments other than their hunting technology is more rudimentary than that one time with Arnold.

Overall, it seems a less formidable opponent, which takes some of the steam out of the narrative.

Equally bothersome, there’s CGI work involving some of the animal fight scenes (Predator versus Bear, Naru versus Mountain Lion) that seems crudely rendered and rather clunky. It makes you think, for a second or two, that the whole picture must be a bloody animated feature, rather than live action.

Yet the Disney thematic parachute is unmistakably present in Prey, and the result is an uneasy alliance between dueling Market Powers (Action Fans versus Disney Moral Authority).

My wife liked it more than I did.

Note: Naru has a brave dog sidekick that doesn’t get killed.

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

An able cast saves the day!

Loosely based on Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, and directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9, Transsiberian), Stonehearst Asylum is a Victorian madhouse shocker in which the inmates literally take over the asylum.

Doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), an idealistic, Oxford-trained physician lands a job at a remote English asylum for wealthy lunatics, where he is taken under the wing by its director Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley).

Lamb chooses to leave the patients unmedicated and in some cases, even encourages them to pursue their delusions, as with the aristocrat who fancies himself a dog.

Newgate is drawn to Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a posh patient suffering from hysteria, and almost immediately begins devising escape methods on her behalf, even as she warns him to get his own ass outta town.

Stonehearst Asylum takes its sweet time about getting anywhere, but when you’ve got a cast that includes Kingsley, Michael Caine, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis as Lamb’s psychotic bully boy, Mickey Finn, it’s probably best to let these guys ham it up a bit.

Same goes for the ever-enchanting Kate Beckinsale, the ideal template for the role of the beautiful, mysterious madwoman in peril, with whom Newgate has no choice but to fall in love and try to rescue.

Who is she? Who is Newgate? Who is Lamb? Who is anybody in this picture?

Joseph Gangemi’s script wanders like a hippie on an OG Kush bender, but Anderson somehow guides his players to a blazing finale when murderous Mickey Finn bursts into flame and sets the whole place on fire.

I would characterize Stonehearst Asylum not only as a goth-styled thriller, but existing in the same cinematic universe as Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, and some of Hammer Films’ more outrageous period pieces, that likewise usually conclude with the house burning down.

I almost added Ken Russell to that group. Stonehearst Asylum stops short of achieving anything as stylistically unhinged as Russell’s maddest work, which is a tall order to be sure.

On the other hand, if you enjoy kooky costume drama with a first-rate cast attached, this is an Everything Bagel.