'Prey': A Fresh, Exciting Prequel That Breathes New Life Into the Predator Franchise
At a time where older franchises are being revived quite frequently, the idea of a prequel to the classic 1987 film, Predator isn't too shocking. What is shocking is that there has been so little fanfare in the lead-up to its release, and the fact that it was unceremoniously dropped on Hulu as opposed to getting a proper theatrical release. Granted, the Predator franchise has had a spotty track record, both critically and commercially, but given how iconic the original film is, you would think that a new installment in the franchise wouldn't have skipped theaters altogether. I have to admit that Prey wasn't even on my radar until a couple of weeks ago because it was marketed so poorly. I decided to give it a watch after hearing some of the buzz surrounding it, and after watching it, I can safely say that it is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and one that should have absolutely got a theatrical release.
Set in 1719, Prey follows Naru, a young Comanche woman who has aspirations of being a great hunter. One day, she sees what she thinks is a "thunderbird" in the sky, and sees this as a sign that it is time for her to follow her dreams and prove herself. Little does she know that the "thunderbird" is actually a spaceship, and that it has a Predator aboard. Soon, Naru finds herself fighting for survival, and must protect her tribe from the mysterious creature.
The Predator franchise is somewhat of an anthology series, as each entry is episodic and features a new group of people facing off against the iconic creature. Prey is no different, as it is a prequel to the entire franchise, and has little connection to it beyond the Predator creature, and a few small references here and there. Since there isn't a great amount of lore or continuity to worry about, this allows the film to have a sense of freedom, and to be more creative about the story it tells. In this case, it allows director Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison to tell a story of a young Comanche woman trying to prove herself in her tribe, while also weaving in the sci-fi and action elements we have come to expect from the Predator movies. These work in tandem to make a compelling film that boasts some thrilling, brutal action sequences, but also has some surprising emotional depth that adds to the film nicely.
It's also worth mentioning that the Comanche representation is excellent, and is handled much better than I was expecting. It comes across as respectful and honest, and it shows what happens when filmmakers take the time to consult with experts and people who belong to a culture that they are unfamiliar with. As a result, the depiction of Comanche Nation people is one that honors them, and is one of the better representations of Indigenous people in film. In addition to the research, the film also features a cast made up of Indigenous actors, and the film was actually shot in both English and Comanche. In fact, a Comanche dub of the film is available to watch on Hulu. It is clear that the filmmakers behind this film put in the time and effort to best represent Comanche culture, and they absolutely succeeded in doing this.
It's a bit surprising that this is only Dan Trachtenberg's second film, but it's clear that he is very passionate about this film, and it is definitely worth the wait. After he made his debut with 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016, it was clear that he had some serious potential as a filmmaker. With Prey, he definitely lives up to it. At a time where genre films like this have started to feel homogenous, he delivers a film that feels fresh, exciting, and new, while still feeling in line with the Predator franchise as a whole. This is no easy feat, but Trachtenberg pulls it off excellently. The action sequences are engaging, and the way he lets the tension ebb and flow is highly impressive. I would love to see him make more movies like this, and I hope that he gets the chance to further stretch himself as a filmmaker.
What stood out to me the most is how incredible the film looks and operates on a technical level. The film is beautifully shot by Jeff Cutter, who captures the beauty of the wilderness that the film takes place in, and also does a great job of shooting the action sequences. Speaking of the action, the way that the action and violence is deployed is spectacular, and the fight sequences made my jaw drop multiple times. Of course, there's also the matter of the Predator itself, which looks as great as ever here. The creature design is so well done, and I appreciated how this film features the Predator using older versions of the technology from the original. On top of that, the film has an excellent score from Sarah Schachner, which lends itself perfectly to the film's more intense moments. All of these elements make me even more frustrated that the film was sent straight to streaming, as they would play even better on the big screen. The fact that they affected me as much as they did watching it at home makes me feel like it would have been a major hit in theaters, and may have become a late summer sleeper hit if it got a theatrical release. Regardless, the technical elements are a major highlight, and left me stunned.
As mentioned above, the film has a cast made up entirely of Indigenous actors, all of whom are great in this film. The film's clear standout, however, is Amber Midthunder as Naru. She gives such a deeply human performance, while also nailing the big action sequences. You truly feel for her desire to prove herself to be a great warrior, and her arc over the course of the film is so compelling. It wouldn't surprise me if her career takes off after this, as she is just so fantastic in the film, and shows that she has some real star power. I also enjoyed Dakota Beavers's performance as Naru's brother, Taabe. The dynamic between Naru and Taabe is a major focal point of the film, and both Beavers and Midthunder play off each other so well in their scenes together. Both actors are the heart and soul of the film, and both help give the film some added depth, while also playing into the action and sci-fi elements of the film very well.
Prey is such a bold, exciting step forward for the Predator franchise, and breathes some new life into it. It is so well-crafted, and majorly excels on a technical level. It's such a shame that the film didn't get a theatrical release, as I would kill to see this on the big screen. It's such a great action film, and a worthy addition to the Predator franchise. This film blew any expectations I had for it out of the water, and has me looking forward to where the franchise goes from here, as well as what Amber Midthunder, Dan Trachtenberg, and Patrick Aison go on to do next. It's one of the year's biggest surprises for me, and one that definitely should not be missed.