Tyler Perry is likely to always be an acquired taste, but with "The Family That Preys" Perry takes a giant leap forward in filmmaking skill without losing the theatrical flair that has endeared him to black audiences nationwide.
With "The Family That Preys," Perry accomplishes what the Kendrick Brothers and "Fireproof" couldn't. Perry manages to get across a rather blatantly Christian message without ever becoming preaching and losing his wider audience.
Generally speaking, Perry is a critic proof filmmaker. He's developed a strong following over the years, mostly due to his stage productions and, of course, the notoriety of his Madea persona. In fact, "The Family That Preys" was not screened for critics. Ordinarily, we critics (and the society at large) can consider that a bad sign. In this case, however, it simply appears that Perry knows his market and he knows who he has to please. He also knows that it doesn't really matter what he does, there are certain critics who are simply going to blast away...sadly, and inappropriately, the same has happened with "The Family That Preys."
I'm not saying that "The Family That Preys" is without fault. Tyler Perry IS Tyler Perry. He's prone to fits of melodrama and cultural quirkiness that I simply refuse to chalk up to my being a white guy who simply can't understand.
I DO understand Tyler Perry and, while he's grown monumentally as a filmmaker, he's still got a ways to go.
While I'd love to give all the credit for the success of "The Family That Preys" to Perry, much of the credit goes to lead actresses Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard. The two award-winning actresses play women from different sides of the track who, nonetheless, have managed to be lifelong friends.
As Charlotte, Bates is from a family that preys. That is, they've acquired a great degree of wealth by picking on weaker, more vulnerable families.
Woodard's character, on the other hand, is a single, working class mother with two grown daughters (Sanaa Lathan and Taraji P. henson) on very different paths in life. Throw into this mix Perry's usual array of family dysfunctions, disloyalties and troubles, and you have the makings for what is easily Perry's most character-driven and coherent film to date.
The supporting cast for "The Family That Preys" also gets its moments to shine, most notably Perry himself along with Lathan, Rockmond Dunbar and Perry regular KaDee Strickland.
Even the technical aspects of Perry's film is in top-notch form, with Perry's camera work becoming increasingly effective and imaginative.
It's sad, on a certain level, that Perry's films seem to be pegged as black films. While Perry, much like Spike Lee, seems to have his finger on the pulse of the black community, his storylines and themes are universal.
by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic