1987’s Predator takes the 80’s action film and flips it on its head. A group of commandos is picked off one by one by a sneaky jungle alien. The sole surviving soldier uses brains and brawn to defeat the fearsome creature. Featuring an all-star cast, explosive and tense action, and a stirring score by Alan Silvestri, Predator cements itself as an 80’s classic.
The sequels are another story. Predator 2 brings the action from the jungle to the urban jungle of Los Angeles. It swaps out Arnold Schwarzenegger for Danny Glover and a wild-eyed Gary Busey. Predator 2 is great, as is 2010’s Predators. The same can’t be said about the Alien vs. Predator films or 2018’s The Predator.
This year, Dan Trachtenberg of 10 Cloverfield Lane fame takes his stab at Predator with Prey. This time, the setting is not the jungle or a city, but colonial times. The protagonist isn’t a buff Arnold Schwarzenegger, but a Comanche warrior.
Prey is streaming on Hulu.
Story: Back to the Past
Set in the 18th century, Prey follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a Comanche who wants to prove herself. She is expected to be a breadwinner like the other women. Naru desires to be a warrior. Despite the objections of her tribe, Naru joins the other warriors on their expeditions. When a mysterious alien creature begins hunting them, Naru sees this as a chance to prove herself.
Prey strips Predator to the essentials. This is a simple story about a woman whose trial by fire comes from hunting an alien. Coming off the heels of The Predator, which reveals they want to weaponize autism, Prey’s simplistic approach is refreshing. It’s lean, mean, and tells a self-contained story. The 18th century setting is refreshing because it’s something the franchise has never touched upon before. Outside of comics and novels, we’ve never seen what a Predator story would look like set in the past, until now.
Characters & Performances: Way of the Warrior
At the center of Prey is Naru. Naru is different from previous Predator protagonists in that she is not a soldier, cop, or convict. She is a Comanche trying to prove herself, despite being told otherwise.
Prey is a coming of age story. Naru is young and ambitious. She takes a lot of gruff from her comrades, but her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) backs her up no matter what. Taabe teaches her the way of the warrior. Once she finds herself in the Predator’s crossfire, everything she knows is put to the test.
The Predator itself is both similar and different. In keeping with the setting, his technology is more primitive. It cloaks, but it doesn’t mimic voices, nor is it armed with the trademark plasma cannon. This hunter seeks Earth’s deadliest warrior. He hunts wolves, bears, and other animals until he encounters Naru. Because this is a Predator movie, these two will fight, and one will come out on top. It’s predictable, but the well-done script and characters keep you invested in the action.
Cinematography & Sound: There’s Something Out There
Prey is no slouch in the technical department. The film’s widescreen cinematography is gorgeous, with plenty of long shots of valleys and mountains. It’s during these shots where the film dials back on the dialogue and allows the viewer to soak in the ambience. It’s refreshing to see a blockbuster that doesn’t assault the senses every five seconds.
The movie doesn’t utilize any of Alan Silvestri’s iconic score. Instead, it crafts its own themes centered around tribal music, and it’s great.
Editing & Pacing: Slow and Steady
At 100 minutes, Prey moves at a brisk pace. It’s a “1-2-3” type of movie where things start simple but gradually escalate. Curveballs like colonial hunters and quicksand ensure Naru’s journey isn’t an easy one. As mentioned, the movie goes easy on the dialogue. The best parts aren’t when the Predator makes mince meat of French colonialists, though those are fun. The most engrossing moments are when we watch Naru craft weapons or remedies. Even when she is on her own, there is a feeling of tension because we never know when the Predator will show up.
Prey keeps it simple. It’s easy to follow, easy to grasp, and everything is understandable. There are no heroes and villains, just a predator and its prey.
The only weak link is the effects. The Predator is a combination of practical and digital effects and looks great. What doesn’t look great are the various CG critters. During nighttime scenes, they look passable, but they don’t hold up as well during the daytime. You can tell they are digital and aren’t actually there.