The existence of Prey proves that 20th Century Fox is going to be making Predator movies forever, regardless of quality or paltry box office returns from previous entries. The new film has been in development since 2018, which saw the release of Shane Black’s The Predator, an entry horribly received from both critics and audiences, accompanied by a weak worldwide gross. But it just so happens that Prey, one of the most watched originals ever by the Disney-owned Hulu, is proving to be a return to form. Who knew that simplifying this formula was the key to future success (Spoiler: the fans knew). Ironic, though, that Disney bought Fox before the franchise made its comeback. Even though Prey comes brandished with the relatively new “20th Century Studios” logo, it is the mouse that always wins!
The film follows a Comanche tribe in the 18th century who has orchestrated an efficient system of hunting in their carnivore-filled wilderness. However, despite her ambitious aspirations, Naru (Amber Midthunder) is excluded from such “manly” expenditures and discriminated against based on gender. Her brother, Taabe (Dakota Benders), is considered a great hunter but bullies Naru and throws water on her desire to hunt with the rest of the guys. Despite the daily verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, Naru has a strong will, intelligence, and resiliency. Her only real friend is an American Dingo dog who may be the most behaved canine in movie history. He’s her hunting partner as she sets sights on a bear that has recently terrorized the community. Unbeknownst to her, however, a much more dangerous apex predator on the prowl has scouted this community for potential foes that the Predator can annihilate… just for sport.
At a running time of just about 100 minutes, Prey relies on a simple premise and some kickass action scenes. The movie is at its best when either Naru or the Predator gets a chance to slaughter a group of adversaries. There are some brutal kills along with solid choreography, although there’s room for the movie to be even more visually appealing. Director Dan Trachtenberg relies on a muted color palette while refraining from showy and acrobatic camera movements. This shows Trachtenberg’s restraint as he attempts to ground the movie into something naturalistic. However, the 80s movie lover in me would have enjoyed at least a few scenes that were pulpy in nature, highlighting the violence in an even more bloody and colorful manner.
Nonetheless, the film’s commitment to gritty realism is commendable for its consistency. The film’s adherence exemplifies that realism to authenticity in depicting the culture of the Comanche. However, I did find it jarring that the dialect of the Comanche all sounded like Americans from 2022. When one character asked, “how come?” I thought they could have all easily been from Ohio in the modern day rather than a group of natives from 1719. We have footage that shows that people from the 1940s sound very different than they do now. I can’t imagine the differences in speech from 300 years ago.
The cast is workmanlike, mostly there to support Midthunder’s lead performance, who’s great here. You never believe for a second that she won’t reach her goals, as Naru never doubts herself. She’s also admirably poised in a world where she is constantly disrespected – your girl is constantly being fed shit sandwiches by her own tribe and takes it in stride until she can prove everyone wrong. Finally, the character is headstrong and dynamic enough to warrant even more adventures, although that might not be in the cards. This may be for the best, as Hollywood often forgets less is more.
But this is Naru’s movie, not the Predator’s. That’s often what has failed these movies in the past – not establishing interesting protagonists to combat the Predator. Everyone remembers Arnie in that first film. However, audiences were less enthused by the likes of Danny Glover and Boyd Holbrook, and I refuse to acknowledge those awful Alien vs. Predator movies beyond this one sentence. But Naru is potentially the series’ most memorable character since Dutch.
This doesn’t take away from the Predator, whose physical and visual attributes dominate the screen. The creature isn’t quite as scary as its counterpart in the 1987 original, but 30+years of familiarity makes that a tough ask in the first place. The creature is nasty and as brutally callous as a Predator ought to be. But if the movie has one glaring flaw, it’s that this Predator is a bit of a dummy. Naru picks up on the fact, early on, that the Predator dismisses her, sparing her life because it doesn’t see her as a threat. This vibes with the movie’s theme; this is a sexist world, and the Predator, as the antagonist, embodies those sexist attitudes. HOWEVER, you’d think after a while, the Predator would start to pick up some things, learn, and adapt.
Throughout the movie, Naru is just casually picking up weapons (which should automatically set off the alarms that she’s a threat), attacking the Predator, attacking a group of French colonists in a violently athletic showcase, setting traps, etc. Yet, the movie is so committed to its subtext that it waits too long to smarten the Predator up and have it do battle with Naru. Yes, thematic storytelling is important, but you also want your lead antagonist to pick up on what’s going on quickly, which will inevitably raise the stakes. There’s also a critical moment where the Predator doesn’t even seem to realize how their own tech works. Not very becoming of an intergalactic hunter.
As the story concludes, Prey ultimately establishes itself as a film that redeems past missteps. Despite its warts, the film’s propensity to engage and excite the audience after years of misses in the franchise is a victory in itself. If nothing else, Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) has shown a knack for slow-burn genre flicks that are great mood pieces for anyone craving a thriller. It’s a movie that finally puts a withered franchise back into a positive light for moviegoers, opening the door for future installments to be met with excitement. This won’t be the last Predator movie, that much we can guarantee. But thankfully, we have a template for future movies to use as a point of reference. But 20th Century Studios need not just copy and paste what worked here. Prey is familiar but fresh. That’s the technique you need for the next hunt.