‘Preservation’: Lackluster recycle

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Throughout nature, animals kill their prey for food. What distinguishes humans from other species? Only humans engage in killing for the sheer pleasure of the activity.

“Preservation” involves a trio, who visit a nature preserve for a weekend getaway. Sean (Pablo Schreiber) is an Afghanistan War veteran, who has recently been discharged from the Army. The circumstances of his separation seem disconcertingly vague. His younger brother, Mike (Aaron Staton), manages a money market fund. Although Mike is surrounded by sylvan splendor, he just can’t manage to detach himself from modern technology.  He is intermittently gabbing away with business associates on his ubiquitous cell phone. Mike’s wife, Wit (Wrenn Schmidt), is an anesthesiologist, who has extensive emergency room experience.

Sean and Mike turn out to be inveterate hunters, who are armed with rifles. By contrast, Wit is a tofu chomping vegan. Isn’t it unlikely likely that a doctrinaire veg head would be married to a hunting enthusiast? Isn’t it even more improbable that she would join a hunting expedition? This is the sort of incongruity that afflicts “Preservation.”

As boys, Sean and Mike had visited this nature preserve with their father. So, the has a certain nostalgic resonance for them. As Mike recounts, Daddy dearest was a brute, who subjected his sons to corporal punishment. Mike gratefully acknowledges that Sean interceded many a time to protect him from a beating.

A screen capture from a trailer to the film "Preservation" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XcEo7aL67I

A screen capture from a trailer to the film “Preservation” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XcEo7aL67I

When the threesome arrive at the destination, they discover posted signs, announcing that the site has been closed.  Undaunted, they simply remove the metal chain that blocks the entrance.

Sean shoots a deer, then suspends the carcass, slitting its carotid artery to accelerate exsanguination. Sean and the married couple adjourn to their separate tents and go to sleep.

The next morning, Mike and Wit wake up. Somehow, the tent that they were sleeping in is no longer there. Did it simply dematerialize? The film posits that somehow the tent was removed without waking the occupants within it.

What’s more, their gun, food and water supply, as well as their shoes have been purloined. Ominously, both Mike and Wit have targets ominously marked on their foreheads.

Sean, his dog, and his tent are nowhere to be found. Has he succumbed to an episode of  P.T.S.D.? Is he now hunting his own brother and sister-in-law?

The short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” (alternately titled as “The Hounds of Zaroff”) by Richard Connell, was first published in “Collier’s” back in 1924. Its protagonist was a famous big game hunter. He is aboard a Caribbean yachting cruise en route to hunt jaguars in the Amazon rain forest. He falls overboard, then swims through shark-infested waters to reach an isolated island. There, the celebrated, predator becomes the prey of a Cossack aristocrat. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the latter has grown bored of tracking ordinary game. Now, the jaded general enjoys hunting fellow humans for kicks.

The premise of Connell’s tale has inspired a plethora of screen adaptations. The first and most noteworthy was the 1932 version of the same name with Joel McCrea in the lead role. Other versions included 1956’s “Run for the Sun” with Richard Widmark starring and 1993’s “Hard Target” with Jean-Claude Van Damme as its hero. The latter had the distinction of being the first Hollywood vehicle helmed by Hong Kong filmmaker, John Woo.

“The Most Dangerous Game” also provided the inspiration for several television parodies.  It was played for laughs on “Gilligan’s Island” and “Get Smart.” More recently, the annual Halloween episode of “The Simpsons” used the storyline in a segment titled, “Survival of the Fattest”

Screenwriter/director, Christopher Denham, has imbued “Preservation” with a handful of interesting new twists, including a gender-based revision. He makes effective use of dramatic foreshadowing. However, the film is plagued with gaping holes in logic and plausibility. The acting is disconcertingly spotty at times.

“Preservation” is a lackluster iteration of a theme, which has been executed more effectively in other antecedent vehicles, both dramatic and jocular.

“Preservation” **1/2 No MPAA rating 90 minutes

Film critic Nathan Lerner sees more than 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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