PREDATORS, the latest work from prolific indie author Michaelbrent Collings, is a peek inside the heart of darkness and the brutal savagery of mere existence. It's pop fiction at its pulpiest and offers its readers a page-turning story caked with blood and adrenaline.
These shores are well-trod for Collings, who has made his name with thrilling and chilling works of terror. His are works awash in bloody delights, and PREDATORS offers long time readers the kind of sweet viscera they've come to expect from his mind.
It's also a story that explores the darker, hidden corners of humanity - the unspoken instincts of the animal brain we like to pretend don't exist, but which drive our every impulse and move. In PREDATORS, Collings forces us to contend with the question of which is more terrifying: the stalking killer that lurks without, or the unevolved animal that dwells within?
It's not an uncommon theme in horror, certainly; and, yes, you can easily find examples where the idea is explored better than it is in PREDATORS. Often, it almost feels like Cujo with hyenas taking the place of a rabid dog. That never prevents the novel from being an immensely readable, fun tale that grips and engages, sometimes even in spite of itself.
Plotwise, the story follows a group of Americans going on a safari in the African savannah. The story mainly centers around Evie, a housewife trapped in an abusive marriage, Gale, a blind girl who's come to Africa for a final trip with her grandmother and father, and Selena, a Hollywood sexpot who never met a situation she couldn't manipulate. When their tour is taken over by a small group of freedom fighters, they find themselves far off the prescribed trails, away from safe rescue, being hunted by the dangerous creatures they paid money to come see.
Collings spends ample time exploring the backstories of his characters, giving us a fairly deep look at who they are and what brought them to Africa. This approach allows him to take characters who at first seem somewhat cut-and-paste and take them on a journey of self-discovery as they're pushed deeper and deeper into darkness.
Though it does take a while for the horror to truly begin - the first half of the novel is set up, some of which moves slow but not painfully so - once it happens the terror doesn't relent. Collings brings his bloodthirsty hyenas to glorious life; one can almost smell the blood and mud caked on their muzzles, and hear their terrifying laughs as they stalk their victims.
This up close and personal view of African fauna certainly provides ample opportunity for shock and schlock, and Collings does a good job of portraying the rising fears as the stranded group are being hunted by packs of roving wildlife. At times, this allows the story to veer into delightfully bloody descriptions, and Collings never holds back the gore when the situation calls for it.
It's important to note that great prose this ain't. In itself, that isn't a bad thing. Collings clearly isn't aiming to tell a life-changing story destined for awards, acclaim, and study. Those kinds of stories and that type of prose certainly has its place, even in the realm of horror and genre fiction, but diet of strictly high literature just isn't that fun.
There's certainly a lot of fun to be had here. Collings weaves in plenty of shocking moments and twists that take PREDATORS to deeper territories than one might initially think. Each character has their own psychological surprises, bringing them closer to their animal sides than they might believe at first. The net effect is a bloody, pulpy yarn that explores terror from all angles, giving no rest to either the hunter or the prey.