This review originally appeared in the North Texas e-News.
The Predator franchise has been on the prowl for a worthy successor throughout the 2000s. After two painfully schlocky crossovers with Alien, not to mention the franchise’s awkwardly scripted 2018 revival, Predator was a franchise in desperate need of a showstopper before it ended up relegated to the Walmart discount DVD bins for good. Luckily, Predator found its perfect match with Prey.
Prey is a rare breed of movie. It’s an action-thriller through and through, yet its plotting makes it so much more than just your standard popcorn flick.
The premise is simple. A lone Predator drops down in the early 1700s and confronts a Comanche tribe. In a way, that’s a compelling enough plot all on its own considering what lots of movie fans already know about the franchise. Prey is so much more than just a solid premise though, thanks in no small part to its brilliant cast and the care that the film took in its presentation of the Comanche people.
Amber Midthunder leads the movie’s primarily Native American cast as Naru, a young Comanche woman looking to prove she has what it takes to be a hunter against the wishes of the young men in her tribe. Her brother Taabe, played by Dakota Beavers, is basically the sole man who shows her any kind of support, but still clearly has some reservations of his own about her efforts.
Again, it’s a basic set-up, but the genuine pathos that Midthunder and Beavers bring elevates it. There’s real emotion in this movie, especially in the interactions between Naru and Taabe. The setting and plot aren’t just window dressings to hide a slasher flick. Director Dan Trachtenberg handles everything from the characters to the environment with a certain level of care that immediately puts Prey over the top of its predecessors.
Midthunder, in particular, is a difference-maker as Naru. She does everything the movie asks of her and more, helping to create a memorable protagonist worthy of following in the muscle-bound path of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the original classic film.
Trachtenberg and Prey’s fellow film writer Patrick Aison ask quite a lot from Midthunder in the script too. Even if the movie tells rather than shows when it comes to dialogue at times, Taabe practically recites what could be the movie’s tagline back to the audience at one point, Midthunder wastes no time building a nuanced performance that makes Naru a main character worth rooting.
She pulls off the kind of fierce, survive-at-all-cost mentality that made Sigourney Weaver a star in the original Alien and pairs it with a vulnerability and authenticity that just pulls the audience into the action even more, especially when the franchise’s ever-popular villain comes lurking around.
Speaking of the Predator, Prey doesn’t wait long to introduce the audience to the otherworldly hunter. The Predator is practically a constant threat in the film, sometimes only on the periphery but other times dictating the action. Either way, the audience can almost always feel its presence, helping to slowly build tension from the earliest stages of the movie.
It’s choices like that which help further differentiate Prey from some of the franchise’s recent failures, especially the eye roll-inducing Alien vs. Predator movies. There’s a real sense of dread that follows the Predator, allowing the audience to become engrossed by the more visceral action pieces that come as the film progresses rather than feel bored by them.
The end result is a movie that’s able to leave its best moments for last while still putting all of its hour and 40-minute runtime to more than good use. Even the film’s earliest scenes, where it’s relatively obvious that the Predator isn’t just going to pop out of nowhere, are a true delight thanks in large part to the care that Trachtenberg put into representing indigenous culture.
The fact that Prey’s filmmakers took the time and care to hire a cultural advisor, even creating a Comanche language dub of the entire film while shooting, not only allows for an accurate and respectful representation of its cast and setting but also helps ground the movie in a way that simply isn’t easy for a film based around a giant, neon-blooded alien that has a laser-guided arrow launcher.
All in all, the hunt should be over for the Predator franchise. Prey is a movie more than worthy of a sequel, one that will hopefully bypass streaming on Hulu this time and receive the kind of heavily promoted, direct theatrical release it deserves.
Spotlight Score: 9/10