“Prey” does dogs well

I must say that in the new Netflix streaming movie “Prey”, they did a lot of things well. It’s a gem of the horror movie genre. (If you’re avoiding spoilers, read no further). I’ll defer to professional movie critics to tell you how good the casting, pacing, plot, premise and such are.

The thing though, the writers, producers and directors got it right that impressed me the most was that they didn’t kill Sarii the dog (Sarii is a ‘Carolina’ hunting dog going back to a real Native American canine lineage, an integral part of the wonderful authenticity of this film). In a lesser film, the first time the hero fights the villainous protagonist, the director would have the dog pounce on the monster in a doomsday blaze.

I have a hard and fast rule; kill the dog, kill the movie. I won’t look any further.

Unfortunately, unless the dog is the hero, in many B-level action horror movies the dog is sacrificial. If a dog is introduced in the first scene, they’ll find a gruesome way, mostly with guns, to kill it before the second or third scene. I maintain that this is a careless and stupid attempt to focus or reset the action. It’s a lazy way to raise the stakes by creating tension and mortal danger without removing the main characters.

A few years ago I watched a promotional movie of writers and directors and the moderator asked, “Why did you kill the dog?” One director said dismissively, “Dogs don’t talk.

I think most Hollywood screenwriters and directors have no idea how attached their audiences are to their dogs. We will not agree to turn our dogs into canine cannon fodder. That’s a role best left to humans (since we’re mostly responsible for the mess we get into) and this movie, Prey, understands that.

The filmmakers did something else with Sarii that was so refreshing: They didn’t anthropomorphize her — they made her a four-legged human caricature with sharp teeth. At the beginning of the film, the hero, Naru, says to his mother: “Sarii is intelligent”. It’s usually a clue to describe how smart the dog is, but in this movie they show that Sarii is a smart dog. For example, when first encountering overwhelming danger, the grizzly bear, Sarii helps Naru save herself, then quickly leaves the left stage to fight another day. Sarii knew she was vastly outmatched by this aggressive grizzly. I repeat, smart dog.

Sarii helps Naru survive and vice versa. They help each other, presumably, in the same way that dogs and humans have helped each other to survive for twenty thousand years. I saw, in this film, twenty thousand years of human/canine companionship, condensed into an hour and a half (it’s not nothing).

In short, this violent film has a subtext, adding an unexpected dimension to its appeal, about love between species. Without being maudlin or sappy, it celebrates the long-standing tough love between humanity and the dog.

By the way, they were also right about “mud”, but that’s another story.

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