The “wild animal on the loose” genre is a tricky one to get a handle on. It’s often a lot more schlock than scary, more campy than serious. For every Jaws there is a whole barrel of $1.99 DVDs of Sharktopus and Piranhaconda. So, when I was looking at the list of films showing at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and saw one of them was about a killer lion on the loose, I breezed past it pretty quickly.

That is, until I saw it was directed by Dick Maas. Having seen a couple of his previous works – Amsterdamned and Saint – I knew that he would be the perfect director to strike the balance between thrilling and funny on this type of film. His movies are always filled with colourful characters, great dialogue, and no shortage of blood and carnage.

Which is exactly what PREY delivered. The opening scene is remarkably effective at setting up some fun-but-doomed characters and dispatching them horrifically (it also gives a good hint towards the “twist” at the end of the film, if you pay close attention). From there, we meet our highly entertaining heroine Lizzy (Sophie van Winden), a veterinarian at the Amsterdam zoo, and her charming, womanizing ex-boyfriend Dave (Julian Looman), a cameraman for the local news. Along with in-over-his-head Detective Brinkers (Rienus Krul) they offer a hilarious but grounded lens to all the chaos and carnage about to befall Amsterdam at the hands of one seriously hungry lion.

It’s unfortunate, however, that the character that really makes the film great isn’t introduced until more than halfway through. But what an introduction it is! Mark Frost chews up the scenery as well as anyone with his portrayal as Jack, expert lion-hunter and Lizzie’s other ex-boyfriend (love triangle alert!) Oh, did I mention he only has one leg, drives around on a wheelchair with tank treads, drinks like a fish and is way too casual about his use of firearms? He might be one of my favourite characters in all of cinema.

In fact, as is typical for a Dick Mass film, the characters are the real joy here. Sure, the CGI lion is a lot better than I expected, the kills are thrilling (and sometimes hilarious), and there is ample action, gore, gunshots, car crashes, and everything else you could want from a film of this nature. But it’s the characters that really make it fun. Even those that are only around for a few scenes. I’m particularly fond of the gang of over-the-top right-wing skinheads who try to capture the lion on their own terms. As you can probably guess, hilarity ensues!

PREY probably won’t be winning any awards any time soon, and I can’t blame people who will simply dismiss it as another silly killer animal movie. But if you decide to give it a try, I think you’ll find it’s well worth your time.

Selfishly, I just want more people to see it so I can talk about that amazing wheelchair-tank.

Thanks to everyone at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival! This event is running October 11-19, 2018 at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. If you’re in the area and want more details about the festival, check out www.torontoafterdark.com and look out for more coverage of the films here at Nightmarish Conjurings.

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Movie Reviews

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