With a back to basics approach, Prey turns out to be a shot in the arm for the long-running Predator franchise. Like the very good 2010 Predators film, Prey can be accused a wee bit of treading towards remaking the original Predator but it throws in enough differences to make this stand out. The film is a fairly taught ride from beginning to end, like the first film it draws out the introduction of the creature but when it shows up, things get messy quickly. Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) says he pitched the film as sort of an R-rated Disney Princess movie and it kind of is as a young female would-be warrior proves herself by going up against a Predator. Also? Lots of dismemberment!
Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a Comanche hunter in 1719 on the Great Northern Plains alongside her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers). Meanwhile, the Predator (Dane DiLiegro), another hunter from another world is looking for new game, works its way up the prey chain with snakes, wolves, bears and finally sets its laser sights on humans. When the Predator slaughters Naru’s tribesmen she survives but is captured by French animal trappers and her only way of communicating is through a translator, Raphael (Bennett Taylor). Soon the Predator arrives and Naru and her brother confront the Predator while it wrecks its way through French trappers and Comanche hunters alike.
There are a few bits in the film that recall the original, however as the rules have been established in the Predator universe certain things have to happen anyway. Naru, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, finds out that by hiding body heat the Predator can’t see them. Dutch figured it out by diving into a pit of mud while Naru has a medicine that makes body temperature drop. There’s a repeat of the “If it bleeds, we can kill it” line in Prey, probably because it’s 1719 so nobody can get to a chopper. One very cool reveal in Prey is when the Predator guts a bear and then the blood dripping down reveals it through its cloak, which was originally done in 2018’s The Predator but is much more menacing here.
The start of Prey has the badass hunters taking down a lion while the Predator is working its way through higher stakes game similar to the original film when Dutch’s crew took out a bunch of militants while the Predator left behind mysterious remnants of its kills. There’s a lot of setting up the hunting skills of Naru and her tribe which makes the movie sort of a coming of age adventure quest and then the Predator comes crashing in, like the first film where it’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie that a sci-fi horror creature invades. Naru does seem a wee bit hyper confident and doesn’t have the same sense of impending doom that descends upon Dutch’s crew. Naru setting up the intricate traps before confronting the Predator is like in two of the other Predator film climaxes. Naru uses one of the French trappers as bait which is a payoff for all of the crap Naru has had to endure from Predator and Frenchmen alike.
The early Predator hunting scenes offer interesting visuals as there are only glimpses of the Predator taking out its prey as it’s cloaked. The creature has been redesigned slightly, its facemask is some unknown alien skull, this one is a bit leaner, and looks a lot like the evolved versions of the Predators from the last two movies. It’s not blowing people away with a plasma caster; instead it has the laser sight tracker which it uses to shoot out flying arrows. In one of the movie’s bloodier kills there’s an automated net thing that smushes up both a tree it’s attached to and a guy in one bloody, mushy move.
Subtle twitches and body language cues speak volumes that DiLiegro puts into his performance as the Predator. One of the best bits is when the Predator has a Frenchman trapped up against a tree and the French trapper pulls out a relatively tiny knife and the Predator just tilts its head slightly like “Are you kidding me?” and then proceeds to decapitate the guy mostly out of disgust. Midthunder as Naru puts in a solid performance as she seems competent as a warrior but no one will take her seriously. As her brother, Beavers gets in a good showdown with the Predator which adds stakes for the finale. Taylor is the one Frenchman who can speak Naru’s language and he has a painful looking scene when she fixes his chopped off leg as he teaches her how to use a rifle. The way Raphael’s character folds into the larger narrative of the Predator saga pays off on a moment from Predator 2 from decades ago. The movie is in English but there is a dubbed version in Comanche with English subtitles that is an inventive way to add authenticity.
For a franchise that sort of thrives upon variations on the same thing, Prey delivers what one wants from a Predator movie but moving it into a different time gives it a distinctive feel. This may crib some key bits from the iconic original but it’s still a uniquely messy alien monster mash.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Michelle Thrush, Stormee Kipp, Julian Black Antelope and Dane DiLiegro