Poor Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel) certainly doesn’t have it easy in this taut, violent thriller. He’s serving an eight month prison sentence for armed robbery and his former partner in crime (Olivier Schneider) is on his back to get his share of the loot, which Adrien stashed away in order to support his wife (Caterina Murino) and young child. He believes his cellmate, Jean-Louis Maurel (Stéphane Debac), to be an innocent man falsely accused of child molestation. But an act of kindness on Adrien’s part only makes his situation worse as not only do the thugs who were targeting Maurel turn their attention to him, but upon his release Maurel rewards his intervention by abducting Adrien’s daughter and appropriating his money. It turns out Maurel is in fact a prolific serial killer, as Adrien discovers after a visit from retired policeman Manuel Carrega (a world weary Sergi López), whose pursuit of Maurel cost him his career. Following a particularly brutal encounter with his fellow inmates, Adrien manages to escape and sets off in pursuit of his daughter’s kidnapper, but soon finds himself the most wanted man in France, as Maurel’s terrible crimes are pinned on him. With Carrega his only ally, can Adrien evade the authorities long enough to in order to clear his name and save his daughter?
The Prey is director Eric Vallette’s fifth full-length feature film, following his attempt to revive the ‘killer car’ genre, Super Hybrid, in 2010. Vallette’s career to date has been something of a mixed bag, including a poorly received Hollywood remake of the J-Horror classic One Missed Call (2008), but with The Prey he’s back on home ground, and the result is an assured, slick piece of filmmaking that provides a satisfying take on some familiar action movie tropes.
It might be fair to say that this film occasionally feels uncertain of its own genre – starting out as a grim, visceral prison drama before switching to an exciting, fast paced chase movie after Adrien’s escape, then taking another tangent towards the end, as we follow Maurel stalking and subsequently disposing of one his victims. However, it’s the middle third of the film, which follows Adrien’s efforts to evade the police, that is the most compelling, as each encounter with the squad led by officer Claire Linné (Taglioni) leads to a series of daring – if improbable – escapes, reminiscent of the 1993 film adaptation of The Fugitive. Indeed, these scenes are more impressive when watched in the knowledge that Dupontel performed many of the more dangerous stunts without a double or safety wires, including a particularly risky sequence involving a moving train.
A tight, economic script from Lauren Turner and Luc Bossi helps ensure the film never feels slow or boring, but some supporting characters, such as Adrien’s wife, feel rather underwritten. Maurel’s motivations are also somewhat unclear – ‘No-one understands what I seek,’ he tells Franck at one point, and it seems as though we never really do either.
The Prey is a solid, enjoyable effort, with some occasionally shocking moments of brutality, that maintains a high level of tension throughout its running time. The only really disappointing aspect is the decision to opt for a clichéd happy ending involving Adrien’s daughter, which will more than likely elicit groans from anyone who has experienced this extremely predictable twist before.