Saturday, 11 September 2010

Desert Stormtroopers

15 – 84mins – 2009
Written by: Nick Damon and Sandy Collora
Directed by: Sandy Collora
Starring: Damion Poitier, Clark Bartram, Isaac C. Singleton Jnr, Erin Gray, Simon Potter, Sandy Collora


Back in 2003 the internet was abuzz with acclaim for an 8 minute short titled Batman: Dead End. Dark, gritty and atmospheric, the fanboy’s wet dream saw the caped crusader apprehend a dangerously unhinged Joker down a grotty back alley, before the pair were set upon by an Alien(!) and a pack of Predators(!!). For a fanmade composition, it was seriously impressive stuff and you had a feeling it wouldn’t be long before the director would be offered an opportunity to transfer his talents to the big screen…

7 years later and Hunter Prey is that transfer. Unlike his (multi) established universe-borrowing showreel, Sandy Collora’s feature length debut is an original chronicle and vision, swapping Dead End’s superheroes in the shadows for sci-fi soldiers in sunshine and sand, although it nonetheless makes no attempts to hide the auteur’s obvious stylistic influences. Let’s just call it a homage.

Set in a future engaged in intergalactic war, Hunter Prey hones in on the plight of a small group of soldiers – the survivors of crashed vessel the Prometheus – who must track down their escaped prisoner, Jericho (Clark Bartram), on a barren desert world. It’s a simple cat-and-mouse plot which twists and turns the more you learn about the planetary conflicts which rage amongst the stars, and your allegiance persistently alters as supplies dwindle and the adversary ratio is reduced to 1:1.

Visually, the instantly noticeable influence is classic Star Wars, with the commando’s helmet and armour getup looking like Boba Fett meets Iron Man, and the rocky Mexico location baring more than a passing resemblance to Tatooine: sand, after all, is sand. But tonally the film is more akin to Starship Troopers, Planet of the Apes and the Arnie vs. Predator climax to the original Predator. What we have here is a prime example of pulp science fiction; fun and simple on the outside but intelligent at the core.

With a slim cast of six – one of which is Collara himself, and another the voice of the soldier’s computer intelligence, Clea (Erin Gray) – and an obviously minute budget, Hunter Prey does a fantastic job with limited resources: the special effects (when rendered) do not shake you out of the fantasy, the alien make up is striking, the action is unrestrained and the in-universe aesthetic is worn, torn and believably lived in.

I will admit that it is sometimes a strain to catch exactly what Commander Karza (Issac C. Singleton Jnr) and Lieutenant Centauri 7 (Damion Poitier) are saying beneath their lumbering helmets (an issue confounded by the lack of a subtitle track on the DVD), but otherwise Hunter Prey is a satisfying small scale sci-fi success, provided you aren’t expecting OTT spectacle on a galactic budget.

In a CR@B Shell: A bold and ambitious future-vision which makes the most of a small cast and even smaller budget. Hunter Prey is a remarkable debut which suggests grander things are to come for Sandy Collora.

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