A confession: prior to The Family That Preys, I’d never seen a film, play or television show by the monstrously popular Tyler Perry, and so I come to this one lacking any means of comparison or context in which to place his latest exhibition of family values. Based on the feelings of my colleagues and friends, his past dramatizations of human behavior would likely prove rancid to my palate: self-serving Christian absolution more concerned with rekindling a more purportedly wholesome past than with living happily and practically in our own present (hence why Sarah Palin is now the single scariest person in the world). Suffice to say, I can’t myself comment on Mr. Perry’s past excursions with Madea and company, but I do know a good melodrama when I see one, and Family That Preys is nothing if not an exquisite and effortlessly crowd-pleasing reflection of a morally plagued, money-worshipping society, one in which job titles, incomes and business attire speak more loudly than integrity, commitment and love.
Religion is important to these characters but the presence of Christianity itself is practically incidental (we are thankfully spared any lectures on hot topics); it is in this way that Family That Preys acknowledges morality as an intrinsically human quality spanning all regardless of creed, albeit one often sacrificed in the name of conquering the class system that drives men against their brothers—or, as per this film’s most substantial and revealing narrative thread, spouses against each other. That doesn’t stop race from being a tool of manipulation in this ugly game, in which two generations of families connected by marriage wage social war on each other via fiscal manipulations and barely concealed love affairs, the ruthless quick to cut throats in their ascent and the pure of heart often left to sort through the detritus of their trounced-upon lives—the blows prove so low as to render the initially wince-inducing title an understatement in retrospect.
Perry’s morality plays are overt yet pure examples of populist entertainment, manifest in poetic, precise performances that are as much the result of the eager cast as the deliberate rhythms in the blocking and pacing of their scenes, an infusion of theatrical and cinematic space that not only proves delectable in its layman-like artistry (a horizontal tracking shot that highlights the virtues of working life), but one that befits the film’s common sense approach to capitalist bullshit and personal dishonesty. It’s all the same, whether you chalk it up to Jesus or karma, and sometimes—no matter who you are—even family must be disposed of. Or a bitch just needs to be smacked.