Though the Alien franchise started nearly a decade earlier, the Predator series has followed a similar trajectory. Thirty-five years later, the original Predator remains one of the best sci-fi/action movies of all time. Yet despite its best efforts, 20th Century Studios hasn’t been able to catch lightning in a bottle. Neither audiences nor critics bought the first sequel’s urban setting or Danny Glover replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger. After a couple of failed crossovers with Alien, two more direct franchise entries were failed to re-ignite much filmgoer interest. But now Predator franchise has the follow-up – or prequel – it deserves. Streaming on Hulu and Disney Plus, Prey has scored strong reviews and fan buzz.
On the American Plains in 1719, a young Comanche woman Naru dreams of being a hunter like her brother, Taabe. But tribal expectations mean she must fulfil duties of a gatherer and healer. In spite of these demands, Naru sneaks off to prove her worth as a hunter. What she finds on the plains is something no one on Earth has seen. Facing something more dangerous than any bear or mountain lion, Naru suddenly finds herself the prey not the hunter.
Prey a Skillful and Beautifully Filmed Mix of Science Fiction, Action, and Suspense
Prey marks a welcome return to the Predator series without recycling the original’s 80s hypermasculine approach to the material. Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) commands the screen with a patient approach that’s also well-paced. In what’s very much an R-rated action-thriller, Prey includes several impressively filmed action moments. Both Naru’s attempted hunt of a grizzly bear and the Predator’s assault on French voyageurs’ camp are standout scenes. Moreover, the climax – which feels like a spiritual cousin to the original’s finale – mixes suspense, smarts, and thrills. And this where Trachtenberg excels. Specifically, the director remembers to make the Predator a scary antagonist – and movie – amidst its action.
Moreover, the climax – which feels like a spiritual cousin to the original’s finale – mixes suspense, smarts, and thrills.
In addition to skillful action and taut suspense, Prey is a gorgeously filmed movie making full use of its wide open plains and misty forests. Screenwriter Patrick Aison also weaves in a clever theme about ‘predators and their prey’ that Trachtenberg reinforces with imagery. That is, Prey includes numerous references to the ways in which the relationship between the hunted and hunter flips at a moment’s notice in nature. Maybe Aison’s story structure conforms a bit too much to expectation. Still that’s what allows Prey to subtly exist in the Predator continuum. And Sarah Schachner’s score further elevates the movie to what should be be a theatrical experience.
Prey Boasts a Star-Making Turn From Amber Midthunder
Much has already been written about Prey’s inclusivity and attention to details in its portrayal of Comanche culture. Certainly, the prequel’s shift in both its timeline and central protagonist injects the series with much needed freshness. Both Predator 2 and Predators faced criticisms for casting lead actors who couldn’t fill Schwarzenegger’s shoes in sequels that still wanted to emulate the original’s testosterone-laden template. But Prey works precisely because its story takes cue from its representation – it’s a Predator movie yet feels different from any other entry. By taking the perspective of a female protagonist and rooting the character in Comanche culture, Trachtenberg and Aison offer audiences a hero’s journey that feels unique even as it takes a familiar direction.
In what is absolutely a star-making turn, Midthunder gives life to her character’s arc.
Arguably, Amber Midthunder’s performance as Naru stands out as one of Prey’s strongest assets. In what is absolutely a star-making turn, Midthunder gives life to her character’s arc. There’s a simple theme of ‘believing in one’s self’ that should resonate with audiences even amongst all the sci-fi action. And newcomer Dakota Beavers is equally impressive in a charismatic performance as Taabe. The brother-and-sister relationship also adds an emotional core missing from other Predator movies. As for the Predator itself, Prey takes advantage of its prequel setting to give us a more ‘rough-around-the-edges’ hunter. Trachtenberg and Aison add to the mythology while also connecting it to other series entries. There’s also plenty of of room for more prequels and/or sequels courtesy of an open-ended conclusion.
Prey is the Best Predator Movie Since the 80s Original
It took 35 years but we finally have an indisputably great entry to the Predator franchise. Simply put, Prey scores on all fronts, exceeding expectations. Whether it’s Amber Midthunder’s star-making performance, the action-thriller’s expansive vista, Trachtenberg’s skillful handling of the action and suspense, or the thoughtful character arc, Prey breathes new life into the series. The only question about the prequel is why 20th Century Studios didn’t give the prequel the theatrical release it deserved. Fortunately, the prequel leaves plenty of room for future installments.