Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hunter Prey, an indie shames the studios

He looks like Bobba Fett. This may help.
Hunter Prey is the first full-length release by Sandy Collora. I've written about this independent genius before, and I'm happy to cover this picture today. This fun sci-fi/action film has some brains, a little comedy, and tons of beautiful scenery that support a smartly character-driven story. This is what you haven't been getting from Hollywood for the last X years.

We begin in space, with a ship in transit. It breaks apart. Then we're with a group of people in armored suits in some kind of desert. They were transporting a prisoner, who's now loose after the crash. Sorry, "now loose after the crash and stalking his captors." As I wrote in my Year-End post, it's US Marshals meets Predator.

My earlier comments were a nice summary: this story feels like a movie-inspired video game. We follow a small unit of soldiers trying to recapture a bad guy, occasionally tracking the enemy with a pinging hand-held device, like in Aliens. They wear super-suits with a talking artificial intelligence, like in HALO. Hell, given the armor design and the desert terrain, it looks like a great spin-off of Star Wars IV.

I suppose if Hunter Prey were based on a video game, it would be a good one, especially to produce such an impressive movie. As our 3 military folks head out to complete their mission, we quickly get a grasp of their personalities: two seasoned subordinates being thrown into the fire by an unknown superior officer. They might be cliches, I'm honestly not sure - but they work just fine because their interactions feel fresh.

The villain here runs around like Jason Voorhees or the Predator for a while, and the audience gets some time learning the other half of the story. After this point, you're pretty much watching two aliens play Spy vs. Spy in Colorado (well, Mexico, really). The story unfolds very nicely, and the fact that it's a little different and told well makes it compelling. Why was Pitch Black not this good?

The camera makes great use of the Mexican landscape. So much of the film is beautifully-composed, and I'm not sure whether to say the artist was inspired or he chose an easy subject. The script is very lean, with little wasted space; it informs you about the characters, as well as makes you both invested and interested in them. I'm especially pleased that it adds wit, personality, and credible tension at the same time.

There are some telegraphed moments, where the audience is ahead of the characters and the suspense hasn't kicked in yet. Some of the exposition feels natural, while some doesn't. Still, this picture deserves so much credit because it's a success and it was made on the cheap. $425k is the budget estimate - but you couldn't tell that, given the quality of the acting, the special effects, and the audio/visual work.

It's insane that movie houses end up with the Conan remake or the last 13 years of Adam Sandler's career, while this came out on DVD last summer. Hunter's far better than you'd expect given the incomprehensible 5.9 on IMDb, and no rating on Rotten or Metacritic. The humor and drama and character development all work, as does (most of) the story; to compare, watch any recent Eddie Murphy film - get back to me after your stomach settles.

Remember how, before the late 90s, there were a lot of movies that were neither great nor terrible? It used to be more common to get a perfectly-serviceable entertaining 90+-minute story that was well-made, yet not a big deal. Hunter Prey never got into theaters, and that's a crime considering some of the movies released over the last 12 months. I can only hope that Collora gets more attention, as the film is now available on Netflix Instant (sorry this is no longer accurate as of 2015).

Then again, it's a crime that Michael Bay and some others keep making vapid visual garbage while Sandy Collora gets his own funding for an utterly-competent, entertaining action tale. I saw Transformers in a theater (not my call!), and the creator of HP earns more respect in 40 minutes than Bay could in 10 years. I strongly recommend this pic to anyone who wants a well-written sci-fi story. You should support this, unless you want to get more like The Invasion, or Green Lantern, or The Stepford Wives remake.

You shouldn't even need to see the trailer, but here it is:


  1. "Remember how, before the late 90s, there were a lot of movies that were neither great nor terrible? It used to be more common to get a perfectly-serviceable entertaining 90+-minute story that was well-made, yet not a big deal."

    So true, what happened to those movies? But...but...a character driven, well written, sci-fi movie? Count me motherfucking in. I'm definitely going to be checking this one out, and I will get back to you when I do! Great review--I'm sold.

  2. Thanks so much! It's a tough movie to review because it's such a surprise that I don't want to ruin any of it, while making sure people know that they should check this out.

    And, yeah, I'm amazed at how many movies used to be made - movies that made some effort to be good without having everything going for them (e.g., big-name cast and director, big budget). It used to be way easier to find straight up decent-to-good movies that you could recommend to friends.

    Now, it seems like most pictures are either half-hearted efforts (the last few Tim Burton and/or Jim Carrey movies), full-on blockbusters (Inception, Scorcese's films), or utter failures (Chipwrecked, Michael Bay, Nicholas Cage). Since there are so many more ways to make and release motion pictures, it should be easier to find respectable pix, right?


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