Three images from movies
Not all monosyllabically titled thrillers set in the outdoors are created equal. Here’s our take on which ones are worth the heightened heart rate, and which ones to skip. (Photo: Universal Pictures; Lionsgate; 20th Century Studios/Hulu)

3 New Survival Thrillers That Almost Made Us Poop Our Pants

‘Prey,’ ‘Fall,’ and ‘Beast’ are all in theaters or streaming now—we break down which ones are worth your time

Two images from movies
Nylah Burton

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It’s been a slow summer for Hollywood, but there’s been no shortage of monosyllabically titled thrillers set in the outdoors. Prey started streaming on Hulu last month, Fall hit theaters on August 12, and Beast premiered last Friday. All three films are human vs. nature (or alien?) stories designed to prickle the sweat glands underneath your arms and make you grip the edge of your seat as you watch the heroes fight to survive something scary or horrible far away from cell service. But not all monosyllabically titled thrillers set in the outdoors are created equal. Here’s our take on which ones are worth the heightened heart rate, and which ones to skip.


Beast

In this animal revenge tale, widower Dr. Nate Daniels (Idris Elba) takes his two daughters (Meredith and Nora Samuels) to their mother’s home country of South Africa to visit a white Afrikaner family friend named Martin (Sharlto Copley). Martin turns out to be a low-rent Crocodile Dundee working with lions on a game reserve. I was lucky enough to see this movie in a theater with lots of other Black people, so I could laugh and comment loudly along with the rest of the audience at the worst parts of this movie, like when a suddenly CGI version of Lion Dundee hugs a lion.

Jokes aside, I found the movie’s premise quite disturbing. The beast in question is just a lion. Not that lions can’t be scary, but it feels far-fetched to portray a lion mysteriously gaining the ability to overtake teams of men with guns. The explanation is that he’s “gone rogue” and is out to kill every human in his territory because a group of poachers killed his pride. When Lion Dundee sees the beast’s carnage, he keeps shaking his head and going, “Lions don’t do that.” Which, like… exactly.

Beast credits the ability of the Daniels family to survive the lion to the predator’s “knowing who his real enemies are”—i.e. the poachers. So why did the lion kill every single man, woman, and child in a South African village? These people weren’t poachers and yet the movie shows their bodies mutilated and surrounded by flies in a familiar orientalist gaze. This imagery seems to fault them for their own destruction and imply that the Americans and the white adventurer are purer than the cruel Africans who poach lions and therefore deserve to die. (There are a couple white poachers too.) In other words, the movie suggests the poachers should be killed in order to protect wildlife, a moral question that has been in the news lately—remember when we found out a bestselling author was involved in one such murder in Zambia? Human rights organizations have been speaking out for years against the torture, rape, and murder of poachers—most of whom are indigenous to Asian and African countries.

Beast is a bad movie that jumps into topical issues and fumbles the landing. But if you’re an Idris Elba fan, enjoy hate-watches, and don’t mind a little justification of human rights crimes, why not?

Prey 

If you haven’t seen Prey yet, I highly recommend you go watch it immediately. I skipped the English version and instead watched the Comanche language dub, which adds a layer of cultural specificity and language preservation that makes this movie a particular gem. This Predator prequel depicts the first intergalactic hunter to arrive on earth, in the middle of Comanche territory, where it meets its match in young warrior Naru (Amber Midthunder). Naru and Predator are mirrors of each other in a fascinating way: both of them are stalking the other, and both are looking to hunt something worth catching. The thesis of the movie—“How can you hunt that which is hunting you?”—which is asked by Naru’s brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), has the potential to be corny. But as a driving idea, it pulls the plot into several twists and turns that kept me engaged.

Midthunder gives a stunning performance as Naru, a young woman determined to prove herself as a hunter despite her brother and other male warriors’ insistence that she’s not good enough. But it’s her agility and power of observation that leads to her chilling revenge against brutal French fur trappers who are also hunting Predator, and her final showdown with the alien. The movie is a real thriller, and it hits every emotional note from tender scenes between Naru and her mother (Michelle Thrush) to one showing a heartbreaking sacrifice.

Fall

This is the dumbest movie I’ve seen in a very long time. My general rule is to never see movies in which the main character is named Becky, and Fall proved me right. It stars two 20-something climbers, Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) and Hunter (Virginia Gardner). On a climbing trip, they watch in horror as Becky’s husband, Dan, falls hundreds of feet to his death.

Becky understandably stops climbing and has a hard time coping after the accident. Hunter, meanwhile, becomes a climbing influencer on Instagram. To help Becky “find closure” and “get back to being herself,” Hunter invites her to climb a rusty, abandoned 2,000-foot TV tower in the middle of the desert and then spread Dan’s ashes from the top. The expedition takes a turn when the ladder falls apart and they end up stuck up there with no water, no cell service, and only incredibly dangerous and stupid options to get down.

The movie irretrievably lost my attention when Hunter suggests the nonsensical mission. Her proposal is so insane it immediately causes the movie to lose credibility. Why didn’t the duo climb a mountain instead? Why did they keep climbing a rickety TV tower that kept groaning and moaning and shaking? The stunning stupidity of the protagonists made me lose any sense of sympathy for their predicament. Aside from being just plain badly written, the height stunts are very unsettling. I’m not particularly afraid of heights—I’ve frolicked along the rim of the Grand Canyon with no issues—but this movie made me want to vomit. I needed to take a big dose of Klonopin halfway through. This movie isn’t worth your time. What the movie lacked in depth and quality it attempted to make up for in trying to make viewers shit their pants from vertigo—hard pass.

Lead Photo: Universal Pictures; Lionsgate; 20th Century Studios/Hulu

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