Is this turning into Sci-fi B-Movie Week? Seems so. Well, let’s run with that plan for now; see where it takes us.
Support your local B-movie director.
The prison transport ship Prometheus has crashed on a barren, desert planet. Now, the elite commando unit who were escorting the recently escaped prisoner must recapture him alive, at all costs. But besides being the last of his kind, what’s so special about this one fugitive?
Back in 2003, t’interwebz was taken by storm* by what has been described by Kevin Smith as “possibly the truest, best Batman movie ever made”. It was no 2½-hour, $100 million epic that provoked this praise, rather an eight-minute-long mini-masterpiece shot in a back alley in LA for thirty grand. The film was called Batman: Dead End and the man behind it was Sandy Collora, former creature designer and art director turned writer/director/producer. If you haven’t seen it, it’s freely available on YouTube, and my compadre Bubbawheat over at Flights, Tights and Movie Nights has the embedded clip and an exclusive interview with Sandy Collora here. This is just the long way of getting to the fact that seven years after Dead End, Collora finally released his debut feature, an original story called Hunter Prey. I watched it today. It’s very okay. Rhyming is fun at the end of the day. I’ll stop now.
This is a film that plays with your preconceptions from the very beginning. For the entire first act we see this story purely through the eyes of the three surviving commandos, all of whom are wearing body armour with full-face helmets. The characters are sketched out effectively enough to distinguish them from each other though, and there are also rank insignia on their helmets to tell them apart by. You get the three archetypes of this kind of story: the inexperienced rookie, the hard-nosed commander and the rebellious and insubordinate lieutenant. The premise initially feels a bit like the opening scenes of Pitch Black, and it’s obvious where our sympathies are supposed to lie, but then we finally get to meet the chasee being chased by these chasers. Under his alien-looking helmet there is quite a surprise. It’s at this point where the story moves more towards Enemy Mine territory. The bulk of the flick is essentially a two-hander between Clark Bartram – who played Batman for Collora in Dead End – as the fugitive, Orin, and Damion Poitier (no relation) as Centauri, the last surviving commando [sorry; yarrgh] after Bartram’s character has picked off the others. As the two start communicating via a hijacked radio and their supplies run low, their battle becomes more psychological than physical, and it becomes less clear which is the hunter and which is the prey.
The key difference between a low-budget B-movie like and its more elaborate cousins is a lack of camouflage. Let’s take Transformers as an example. Michael Bay never had to worry about character development and motivation for those flicks because every time someone in the audience started to wonder anything about these people, he would just blow some shit up. Well the lunch truck on Transformers probably cost more than this entire film, which means that all Collora has is his characters and their predicament. This lack of camouflage can be as much of a hindrance as anything else if your story sucks, but Collora and his co-writer Nick Damon have done well to build an intriguing script around these two characters, touching on themes like genocide, retribution, and warmongering in the name of religion as these two Proud Warrior Guys roam the sand dunes of Baja California (it makes a change from the Vasquez Rocks at least).
Something good genre flicks do well is to reflect and comment on the issues of the times we live in in a fantastical way, and while it may look like it’s verging on heavy-handed at times, this is a promising start to Collora and Co.’s feature career. Hopefully next time he will have enough of a budget that his two leading actors won’t have to double up in background support roles too.
*I have to use that phrase when telling this story. It’s a rule.