Wednesday, 14 October 2015

the naked prey

the naked prey is one of those ‘hunter becomes hunted’ films that have been popular since forever. it’s also kind of beautiful and marks a real achievement for it’s writer/director/producer/star cornel wilde.

the naked prey opens with a group of white hunters stalking elephants in nineteenth century africa. when they insult a local tribe their camp is attacked and the men are taken to the local village to receive punishment. for one of the hunters, that punishment entails becoming the human prey in a manhunt across the wild plains.

the first striking thing about this film is the opening credit ‘cornel wilde as man’, which seems an incredibly arrogant opening statement from the self-proclaimed auteur behind this film. however, the lack of a name for the main character is in keeping with the minimalist nature of the whole piece. there is barely any dialogue in this film, and most of the dialogue we do hear is not in English and not subtitled. for the most part, we watch wilde’s man trek alone across a vast, dangerous landscape that makes him and his trials seem small and insignificant in comparison. occasionally he is forced to fight his pursuers and the fights are as savage and raw as the stock wildlife footage of predators taking down their prey that is cut into the film. there is nothing noble about the violence and the struggle for survival in this film, it is simply portrayed as necessity.

of course, all this happens after we are forced to endure one of the most cruel and brutal sequences ever shot when the other hunters are tortured and killed by the tribe. perhaps the most brutal death involves a man being caked in mud then roasted slowly over a fire as he screams. it is scenes like this that caused controversy when the film was released as the obvious assumption is that the filmmaker is representing all african tribes as bloodthirsty murderers. however, as the film progresses the group of hunters in the tribe are shown in a more sympathetic light, mourning their dead companions with genuine sadness as they are picked off one by one by their wily prey. later, wilde’s character is shown as perhaps more of a callous killer than any of his pursuers as he dances with glee at the sight of the hunters almost burning alive. by the end of the film balance is restored and the two parties find a kind of mutual respect, but what’s important is that the film isn’t afraid to show the extremes on both sides.

ultimately the message wilde was trying to deliver was that in the right circumstance men are no different to animals and that there is neither glory nor shame in that, simply truth. at the same time, he tells this story in a very entertaining way. wilde’s man is the ultimate underdog, stripped of everything and challenged to survive against armed men who know the land much better than he does. it’s exciting to see him figure out how to survive against these odds and taking on the challenge of the landscape as well as that of his hunters. wilde does a fantastic job making the character and his feats believable, partly due to the fact that he is in amazing shape for a man approaching fifty. he also plays the desperation very well, which makes the story all the more compelling.

there are, of course, hundreds of films with this same setup, going all the way back to richard connell’s 1924 short story, the most dangerous game, filmed in 1932. since then there have been numerous reworkings, my personal favourite being 1994's surviving the game in which homeless ice-t is hunted by rutger hauer and gary busey (gary busey, these days a bit of a joke, delivers an amazing speech in that film). there are still elements of the most dangerous game around today, most notably in the hunger games, but the reason that the story is so frequently retold is that it’s a good story. we love to see an underdog prevail, whether it’s katniss everdeen or a naked cornel wilde. it’s also a story that will always be universal and that’s never been more clear than in the naked prey.

this is a really well-produced, beautifully shot film with some fantastic setpieces, and it’s also a thrilling 90-minute ride that looks gorgeous on blu-ray. if you like to be entertained in style and don’t mind the odd stock footage clip of animals killing each other, you should definitely give this a watch.

the naked prey is released by eureka on blu-ray on 19th october 2015

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