English Title: Prey

Country of Origin: Australia

Studio: Top Cat Films

Director: Oscar D'Roccster

Producer(s): Elizabeth Howatt-Jackman, Robert Lewis Galinsky

Screenplay: John V. Soto, Elizabeth Howatt-Jackman, Robert Lewis Galinsky

Cinematographer: Andrew Topp

Art Director: Lance Whitehouse, Harvey Mawson

Editor: Geoff Hitchins

Genre: horror, supernatural

Starring/Cast: Natalie Walker, Kristin Sargent, Ben Kermode, Jesse Johnson, Christian Clark, Natalie Bassingthwaighte

Year: 2009

Volume: Australasian

Three couples set out for a holiday driving across the desert. Refueling at a remote petrol station, an enigmatic bushman gives Kate (Bassingthwaighte) a magical charm and lures the group off the highway. Lost and losing all sense of direction, the couples find themselves trapped in an eerie stretch of desert. The couples have been led by a human servant onto the sacred grounds of an ancient Indigenous Australian spirit, and it is feeding time.  

Houseboat Horror (Kendal Flanagan and Ollie Martin, 1989) and Bloodlust (Jon Hewitt, Richard Wolstencroft 1992) have long been regarded as the worst Australian horror movies ever made, but the supernatural horror Prey directed by George Miller[1] and starring pop-star and So You Think You Can Dance Australia host Natalie Bassingthwaighte, is a very serious contender for the title. The film’s production was a horror story in its own right, far more frightening than the actual movie. The film somehow received the same title as a terrible South African horror film released in 2007 about a pride of lions on a killing spree. Miller, after demanding last minute script changes, allegedly self-destructed during the shoot. As producer Robert Lewis Galinsky wrote on Twitter in September 2009, the ‘making of Prey Exclusive [Melbourne Underground Film Festival 2009 premiere] shows the disintegration of the original psychopathic director’. There were investor problems, line producers threatened to quit, and Bassingthwaighte injured her ankle causing shooting delays. After disagreements with producers, George Miller relinquished his director’s credit and withdrew from production, and post-production commenced without direction. Original footage was lost and a post-production team worked with offline low resolution material. While some of the greatest movies of all time have made it through disastrous film shoots to become critically acclaimed masterpieces, Prey was not so lucky. Yet for the lovers of trash cinema, this film may be ‘so bad it’s good’. This potential has been recognized by distributors, with the movie’s promotional strategy changing dramatically between pre-release and release, from ‘spooky supernatural horror starring Natalie Bassingthwaighte’ to ‘camp trash horror comedy’, or as the movie poster tag-line puts it – ‘the most horrifying movie since Spice World [1997] the movie’. At times the acting and visual feel resemble bad television; dialogue is poor, and attempts made by Miller to scare audiences are amateur at best – more proof that frightening an audience is far more difficult than many people believe. The storyline is incoherent and confusing. An audience is fairly sure the storyline has something to do with a ‘Kaditcha’ considering the human servant spends a good part of his screen time shouting, ‘Kaditcha!’, Kaditcha!’ For Indigenous Australians, a ‘Kaditcha man’ (or similar variations depending on regional dialects) is a tribal lawmaker associated with ‘black magic’, similar to a witch doctor. But in Prey, the term appears to mean some kind of Dreamtime spirit, presumably a snake, who through his human servant lures victims into the desert to feed … and to impregnate Bassingthwaighte’s character. But a viewer cannot be entirely certain. The story contains no discernable generic rules. It is never explained how characters become possessed, they just become possessed. It’s never explained why some corpses breath and blink and why others don’t. Are they continuity errors? Why can snakes operate a 4WD handbrake? Many of the greatest films ever are remembered for a single scene such as the giant white pointer bursting from the ocean in Jaws (1975); bad and mediocre films are typically just forgotten; but absolutely terrible films that develop cult status are remembered for moments of extremely inept and bizarre filmmaking. Plan 9 from Outer Space (Edward D. Wood Jr, 1959) for example, is often remembered for shaking cardboard gravestones, weird dialogue, and flying saucers on string. Prey has a classic ‘so bad it’s good’ scene. Kate is a doctor. Matt (Kermode) has been attacked by a swarm of snakes and is covered in snake bites. Reaching his side, Kate makes a snap-diagnosis – Matt is suffering from an allergic reaction, though one would assume a medical practitioner should be able to distinguish between sets of holes oozing blood and an allergy. His head swelling to the size of a watermelon, Kate stabs him in the neck to clear his airway, when suddenly his head explodes. Sitting with a headless corpse in her arms, covered in brain matter, she changes her prognosis – ‘snake bites’.    

[1] George Miller is the director of the Australian cinema classic The Man from Snowy River (1982) not to be confused with Mad Max’s (1979) George Miller. 


Author of this review: Mark David Ryan