August 15, 2022 Prey (Movie Review)
The long-suffering Predator franchise is one whose fans are used to disappointment. For a series to be 35 years old and have just the original film regarded as the only truly good entry, one wouldn’t be dismissed if they said the property was as good as done. Things had gotten to the point that fans were eagerly taking any semblance of potential, hoping it would be a starting point for a new, interesting direction to take the still-loved intergalactic hunter. None of those hopes came to fruition, unfortunately, but Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey has finally broken through the malaise and delivered a film that most Predator fans will enjoy. Premiering on August 5, 2022 as a Hulu Original in the U.S., it could be one of the best in the Predator world to date.
It is hard to say exactly why things went sideways for the Predator series, but one thing is clear after Prey; most of them were going in the wrong direction. Instead of the insane future-tech weaponry of Shane Black’s The Predator, or the unwise crossover with the Alien franchise that neither monster walked away better from, Prey scales everything back. The setting is pre-colonial America and focuses on a band of native Comanche, a tribe renowned for their horsemanship and infamous for their brutality. The protagonist is Naru (Amber Midthunder: Roswell, New Mexico series, Longmire series), and young Comanche woman who is trying her best to become a hunter, which is apparently something not typical in Comanche culture. While she tries and fails at several hunting-related tasks along with her trusty canine companion, Sarii, the men in her band have more success, and find their cultural norms reinforced by Naru’s missteps. Yet only she is paying attention to the clues that point to a greater threat.
The setup is basic but executed well. A substantial portion of the film is spent with Naru and Sarii, out in the wilderness, hunting, practicing, or just exploring the land. There is a genuine feeling of adventure in these parts, and goes a long way in establishing Naru’s character, and the relationship between her and Sarii. Additionally, we see the Predator land on Earth and learn his way around, encountering various dangerous animals, including a grizzly bear that hands out what is probably the worst beating a Predator has ever taken on film. These scenes are able to paint the wilderness itself as a challenge for everyone, including the monster, which is a way to even the playing ground a bit for the Comanche, who despite their combat prowess are hopelessly outmatched.
However, Prey is not without its flaws. Missing from it is the character depth that made the first film so memorable. The original Predator managed to take a team of what was essentially canon fodder and make them tangible despite relatively little screen time. They were individuals with their own look, style, and personality. In Prey the supporting characters except Naru’s brother are one-dimensional stereotypes who the audience will forget as soon as the credits roll. Another criticism is the dialogue, which ranges from somewhat wooden to downright cringe in one particular spot. This is another area where Prey falls short of the original, whose lines are still quoted to this day in pop culture. No such longevity awaits this dialogue though.
Amber Midthunder is good in her role, and is believable as the dogged young upstart who needs to prove herself. Her brother, Taabe, is played by debuting Actor Dakota Beavers, and their relationship is one of the strong points in the movie. He is caring, and acts as a sort of sympathetic enforcer of their ways. In the time he has, we can see he has patience and intellect, and would grow into a wise leader one day. The film is at its best when there is no dialogue, however. The action is brutal and well-choreographed, and although a side plot with a group of French trappers seems to be there purely for violent exposition, it is something the franchise is known for as works for what it is. The Predator in this film has a more primitive look, and brings both new and old weaponry from the franchise with him. Fans who are looking for some serious violence will be satisfied.
Overall, Prey does a lot of things right; things that other writers ought to take note of. Audiences will get behind a character who struggles, who bravely faces their challenges and learns from failure. It does not matter how many space-age weapons and technology or other monsters you throw in, because without a solid foundation of character it will all seem vapid. Prey is able to take some of what made Predator popular to begin with and develop the most worthy entry in the franchise in decades. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Prey 4 out of 5 stars.