Monday, September 12, 2016

The Anti-Blockbusters: Hunter Prey

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Hunter Prey is a 2009 independent science fiction film written and directed by Sandy Collora on a very economical budget of $425 thousand. It follows a group of interstellar commandos tracking their alien prisoner on a desert planet. Somehow the prisoner managed to force the prison ship carrying him to crash on this planet and now it is the job of these commandos to take him back into their custody. And they must bring him in alive. This turns out to be a point of contention, seeing as the alien proves more formidable than first thought, but the commander explains that since they have wiped out all but one of this alien’s race, it plans to “return the favor”, and they must find out how.

That’s a very brief introduction to this film, but I want to keep it as spoiler free as possible because Hunter Prey has plenty of surprises. I stumbled across this one because of a recommendation and decided to give it a look. And despite a few flaws here and there, Collora manages to deliver a very good genre entry with this modest film. It definitely has an initial cheesiness about it which may cause some to tune out early on, but I recommend that you stick with the film and give it the chance it deserves. The armored uniforms that the commandos wear are definitely an early weak point, looking not unlike discarded Power Rangers gear dragged through the dirt several times. But remember that this is no big budget affair, and pretty quickly you don’t even notice those uniforms anyway. Also, the acting has lapses from time to time, but for the most part is decent at least.

What sets Hunter Prey apart from the Syfy Saturday night cheese-fests that it resembles at first blush is that it takes a familiar story and builds on it and develops it organically instead of through contrivance. We have seen this sort of tale before, done well in the Star Trek TOS episode “Arena” and not so well in the feature film Enemy Mine, but Hunter Prey quickly establishes itself as more than just a knockoff of genre formulas. The film could have easily descended into a predicament-oriented affair where the commandos and their prey find themselves in a never-ending succession of precarious situations, but it avoids that pitfall (pun unintended but accepted). It follows a rather straightforward plot of hunters pursuing a dangerous prey, though it throws in a nice helping of twists as well. And it advances the story through character development and mostly avoids the contrivances you expect from a low budget sci fi film. The ending is a bit confusing (more on that below in the SPOILERS section), and maybe somewhat unsatisfying, but it does not completely derail the film. And the movie is relatively brisk at about 90 minutes running time which works in its favor. It’s definitely worth checking out, even if it won’t quite overshadow too many of the bigger budget CGI-fests that have hit theaters the last couple of years.

WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW (Skip this paragraph to avoid). As mentioned above, the ending to Hunter Prey is a rather vague and may turn off more than a few viewers to this film. I have actually watched it a couple of times and have picked up a few more clues each time, but still can’t claim that I fully understand it or feel like it delivers a satisfying resolution. I think a lot of the understanding revolves around the comment that Centauri makes to Jericho, “Is that what you want the legacy of your kind to be?”, referring to that latter’s plan to destroy the Sedonian homeworld. I believe that Centauri infects himself with a degree of self-doubt at that point, and we had already seen that he had his own previous disagreements with Sedonian authorities. But would that be enough for him to allow Jericho to escape and potentially carry out his plan of retribution. And what did Centauri mean when he said that he and Jericho would meet again? Was that setting up a sequel? If so, it seemed to be at the expense of a more satisfying resolution. But again, as I said above, that doesn’t completely kill the movie, which is mostly excellent up to the end, just docks it a bit in my final rating.

A note for sci fi trivia buffs, this film seems to have all sorts of obscure references to other science fiction properties. The names of Karza and Croyer seem like a reference to the Micronauts comic book series (Baron Karza and Acroyear). Centauri could be a reference to the like-named race from Babylon 5 or any of umpteen other sci fi uses of the term. Orin Jericho comes straight from Starchaser: The Legend of Orin and perhaps the Jericho TV series as well. And it seems like there were a few others that I noticed that have since slipped my mind. Also, Erin Gray, ex-spandex wearing hottie from TV’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, provides the voice for the computer Clea.

Director Sandy Collora had previously worked with effects and makeup expert Stan Winston (Aliens, Predator, The Terminator) and has spent most of his career behind the scenes. But in 2004, he directed the well-received fan film Batman: Dead End which Kevin Smith has referred to as “possibly the truest, best Batman movie ever made” (you can download the eight minute film at this link). Hunter Prey is Collora’s first feature-length film and he definitely shows promise with this one. Science fiction fans should check it out and keep an eye on future developments from this director.

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