March 17, 2020
by Carla Hay
“Uncaged” (also titled “Prey”)
Directed by Dick Maas
Dutch with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Amsterdam, the campy horror flick “Uncaged” (which has the title “Prey” in countries outside the U.S.) features an almost exclusively white cast of characters representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A murderous lion is on the loose in Amsterdam, and some of the citizens can’t agree on how to stop it.
Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who like cheesy B-movies in the horror genre, but the graphic bloody gore (including images of murdered children) might be too much for some viewers.
“A killer animal on the loose” is a subgenre of horror films that signals that the movie is probably very dumb and very campy. The Dutch film “Uncaged” (written and directed by Dick Maas) certainly fits that description. There’s a lot of graphic violence, but the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. That tongue-in-cheek, self-aware humor about the low quality of this film makes this movie about a rampaging lion a little bit more entertaining than it should be.
The story immediately begins by showing the lion killing people. What’s amusing about the way this CGI-created lion is portrayed is that it seems to have supernatural powers by the way it can disappear in a large urban city and then quietly and suddenly sneak up behind someone without warning, all within a few seconds, like some kind of ghost. This movie is definitely not concerned with being realistic.
In the first 10 minutes of the movie, the lion has appeared at night, outside a house in a quiet neighborhood. Without warning and apparently without making enough noise to wake the neighbors, the lion massacres a mother, a father, their two daughters (one a teenager, the other a 5-year-old cowering in bed) and the teenage daughter’s boyfriend, soon after she had snuck out with him on a forbidden date.
If something like this happened in real life, there would be a small army of people immediately sent to find and kill the lion. But not in this movie’s version of Amsterdam. The authorities are so inept that the local police chief—a bumbling blowhard named Zalmberg (played by Theo Pont)—doesn’t even want the public to know that there’s a lion on the loose, even though investigators find the lion’s footprints and claw marks all over the mauled bodies. (It should be noted that the movie shows graphic images of bloodied and dismembered children’s bodies and children being killed by the lion, so if you’re easily disturbed or offended by this depiction of violence, it’s best to avoid this movie.)
Two of the people who get involved in the hunt for the lion are local zoo veterinarian Lizzy Storm (played by Sophie van Winden) and her boyfriend Dave (played by Julian Looman), who’s a cameraman for a local news TV station. Lizzy is called to the scene of the crime by police investigator Olaf Brinkels (played by Reinus Kul), and she confirms that the killer is a human-eating lion. No zoos nearby have reported a missing lion, so Lizzy theorizes that the lion came from the wilderness that’s closest to the city, or the lion escaped from a private citizen who illegally owns the lion.
Amid all of this crisis over the killer lion, Lizzy and Dave are having some relationship issues. He wants to keep their romance casual and he’s obviously dating other people, while Lizzy wants ladies’ man Dave to be monogamous and make more of a commitment to her. In a conversation that they have in a diner, it’s clear that Lizzy knows that Dave is a chronic cheater who often lies about it, but for whatever reason she’s still dating him.
However, Lizzy tells Dave that she’s getting tired of his antics and she makes a half-hearted attempt to try and distance herself from Dave. How sleazy is Dave? While he and Lizzy are out walking after their dinner date, a woman and her boyfriend confront Dave on the street and demand that he give the woman the videotape that Dave made of her. It turns out that Dave pretended that he was filming the woman (an aspiring actress) for a screen test, and apparently she wasn’t wearing underwear, and he filmed up her skirt without her permission.
Dave often works with TV reporter Maarten Gravestein (played by Pieter Derks), who also happens to be Dave’s roommate. Dave and Maarten are both very ambitious about getting news scoops, so when they hear about the lion on the loose, they’re determined to be the first on the scene for any of the breaking news and to possibly get exclusive footage of the lion. Dave knows that Lizzy is involved in the investigation, so he uses his relationship with her to his advantage.
Meanwhile, the lion strikes again. This time, it’s at a golf course, where three co-workers (a boss and two of his subordinates) are playing golf together. For some reason, the boss has taken one of the subordinates in the woods to fire him. The boss even brought the severance paperwork with him. (How bizarre.) And you can imagine what happens after that. This scene should give people a laugh for anyone who’s had a horrible boss.
The visual effects for this lion are what you might expect for a B-movie like this one, but what makes the lion hilarious to watch is that the movie picks and chooses when the lion will bring attention to itself as it walks in areas where the lion would definitely be noticed before it pounces. For instance, when the lion sneaks up on people in the woods, it somehow can magically do that without its feet making any noise as it walks through the woods.
In another scene, the lion goes on a rampage in the middle of a trolley bus. Did people not see the lion before it had a chance to get on the bus in the first place? Apparently not. The lion is also larger than normal and it has such a massive amount of super-strength that bullets and other weapons don’t seem to cause the type of injuries that would definitely wound an animal of that size in real life.
Even though the local media have already reported that a lion is on the loose in Amsterdam and has killed several people in the city, incompetent Police Chief Zalmberg holds a press conference where says he will neither confirm nor deny that there’s a killer lion on the loose. His reasoning for not being forthcoming to the public is that he doesn’t want people to panic, but in doing so, he delays getting the proper help to catch the lion. Officer Brinkels disagrees and thinks that the public has a right to know, so that the people in the city can take the necessary precautions, but there’s not much that Brinkels can do to change his stubborn boss’ mind.
And even though the lion was seen in one of the city’s parks, the park is still kept open. (Having park curfew at 6 p.m. doesn’t help when the lion has been known to strike during the day.) Needless to say, the police chief makes some more bad decisions that lead to more people getting killed.
One of the details that the movie’s subpar screenplay consistently gets wrong is how it shows Amsterdam to be a city where only one person is appointed to “save the people.” The police chief is shown as having too much power in the decision making. Where is the mayor? Where is the fire department, which usually gets involved when there are wild animals on the loose? And in one part of the movie, only one man (the police chief’s cousin) gets sent to trap this lion. Yes, really, in a big city like Amsterdam.
In the last third of the movie, the police get desperate and look for another possible savior. Early in the investigation, Lizzy mentioned that she knows a British guy who’s a professional hunter. Because apparently there’s no one else in The Netherlands that the police think they can turn to, Officer Brinkels asks Lizzy if the British hunter is available. And wouldn’t you know, he is.
His name is Jack DelaRue (played by Mark Frost), and the Amsterdam police pay to fly Jack from England to Amsterdam to complete the task of finding and killing the lion. Jack makes a less-than-wonderful impression when Lizzy and Brinkels go to pick him up at the airport. He’s drunk. And what Lizzy didn’t tell Brinkels is that Jack is a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair. (One of Jack’s legs was chewed off by a lion in a previous hunt.)
How cringeworthy is this movie’s dialogue? When Brinkels tells Jack some bad news, Jack says, “You’re pulling my leg, right?” Brinkels answers, “Yeah, both of them.”
It should come as no surprise that Lizzy has a personal history with Jack: They used to date each other, and they haven’t seen each other in about eight years. Naturally, Dave gets insecure and jealous when he finds out that one of Lizzy’s ex-boyfriends has been chosen to rescue Amsterdam from the killer lion.
Before Jack can start hunting the lion, he does some questionable investigating (such as smelling the animal’s feces), and he estimates that the lion is about 7.2 feet tall and weighs about 480 pounds. Police Chief Zalmberg isn’t a fan of Jack, so the police chief finally does what he should’ve done in the first place: get a SWAT team to help. But that also turns out to be a disaster.
The final showdown scenes are over-the-top and completely unrealistic. Somehow, Jack’s battery-operated wheelchair has the speed of a small race car. And in one scene, someone punches the lion, as if that would stop the lion in the middle of a vicious attack. In another scene, someone’s idea of fighting off the lion is to throw a gun at it. And during all of these life-or-death battles with the lion and the people tasked with hunting it, no one thought of bringing a tranquilizer gun.
The lion isn’t the only one who seems to be immune to injuries. Lizzy gets in on the action in some scenes that would break her bones in real life, but she walks away unscathed except for rumpled clothes and hair. And there’s a twist near the end of the film that apparently also makes her immune from explosions too.
If you want to spend about 107 minutes of your time on mindless entertainment, then “Uncaged” can be just what you need. Just don’t be surprised if you feel like you’d rather be locked in a cage with a lion than be forced to watch this silly movie again.
4Digital Media released “Uncaged” in the U.S. on digital HD, VOD and DVD on March 17, 2020. The movie’s title is “Prey” in other countries, including The Netherlands, where the movie was originally released in 2016.