The Naked Prey (Wilde, 1966)


If you’re a fan of action cinema, Cornel Wilde’s incredibly brutal chase film The Naked Prey is a must-see. Framed through the bloody lens of early 19th century Africa, where slave trade and ivory poaching are booming industries of death, Wilde’s turbulent masterpiece begins calmly enough with an Anglo-led safari leaving the safe confines of a British fort to hunt elephants on the savanna. When a group of Swahili warriors approach the expedition asking for ceremonial gifts, Man (Wilde), a veteran of the hunt and local customs (he speaks Swahili), wisely advises his arrogant rich boss to oblige. When the safari insults the warriors and denies the custom, the stage is set for a massacre, ultimately leaving only Man and a few others prisoner to the angry tribe. Each survivor dies a terrible death at the hands of the Chief, but Man’s fate is to be hunted through the wilderness by the tribe’s best warriors. From here on out, The Naked Prey consists of one long chase through the harsh African landscape, where Man must become a beast in order to survive both his pursuers and the dangers of the terrain. Without the use of dialogue, Wilde encapsulates the vicious hunt with two contrasting types of sound design; first the natural hums and screams of the trail, and second a consistent non-diagetic drum beat paralleling the evolving pursuit. The visceral nature of the film overwhelms all traditional modes of Hollywood storytelling (there’s never a moments rest for Man or the viewer throughout). The Naked Prey revolves around the raging battle between human nature and mother nature, showing how the arrogance of man leads to the “savagery” of instinct, punishing the weak and merciful in the process.  By examining these universal ideas through an almost pure cinema, The Naked Prey feels more timely and intelligent than any Hollywood action film released in a long time.

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