2022 | R | starring Amber Midthunder | directed by Daniel Trachtenberg | 1 hr 39 mins |
It is the early 1700s and a young girl, Naru (Amber Midthunder, of one of the best shows of the last decade, Legion), seeks to be a hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). During a ceremonial ritual where young men venture off into the wilderness to get their first kill, Naru tags along aiming to bag a lion threatening the camp. The hunt turns even deadlier however when Naru encounters a large, cloaked beast that overpowers every alpha predator in the area. She races to convince the tribe the monster is out there while the predator hunts them all one-by-one for sport.
First of all, Prey should have used the same stealth advertising tactics of Dan Trachtenberg’s Cloverfield franchise film. How much more fun would this movie have been if we didn’t know it was a Predator movie? The premise of Prey is a great one, one of those “someone in Hollywood can still come up with an original take” stealth prequel ideas that takes the long way around to get back into a franchise. Instead of exploring the “urban jungle” of Predator 2 or facing off the Predator against criminals and autism in the laughable The Predator or putting it up against rubber monsters in the dark in the awful Alien vs. Predator movies, Prey strips everything back down to the basics and again presents us with a survival story. No guns, no bombs, just hunters using instinct in the jungle. This is a movie you can view through 2 different lenses: as a Predator sequel – several of it’s choices deliberate to differentiate it from those sequels – and as a native Comanche monster movie. Like the debate about whether Rogue One’s ending would work in a stand alone film or does it have to have that ending because it’s a Star Wars movie, the same can be said for how Prey may work as a stand-alone vs a Predator prequel and how some of those demands inhibit it.
The first of those demands is the look and feel of the movie. First of all, it’s gorgeous. Trachtenberg (whose instincts I totally trust after the wonderful surprise of 10 Cloverfield Lane), takes care to make it feel like you’re immersed in the wilderness, photographing beautiful and vast natural vistas for Naru to explore. It’s also a little bit too glossy. I would have loved to see this movie a little bit more stripped down, a little grittier looking. I would have made the film feel more harrowing and given us a refreshing look at the Predator. With a franchise budget like this one on the line, that was not going to happen. Fox will want it’s villain to be seen in hall his glory (and lets have him punch a bear while we’re at it). I also liked how brutally the film depicts nature. This isn’t a “mankind is the real animal” movie, the lions, bears and wolves of this land are vicious threats that present Naru with kill or be killed choices.
Similarly, Trachtenberg goes as far to immerse us in the Comanche nation as the franchise will allow. Lot of actual Comanche is spoken in the film, but the majority of it’s dialog is in English, which is the most distracting and disengaging element of Prey. While I get that no franchise film spending as much on Predator special effects as this movie needs would dare make a movie entirely in Comanche – God, that would have been a daring, brilliantly immersive experience. Apocalypto with Predators.
For an R-rated film, the violence is limited and very stylish. The meat of it, the cat-and-mouse fight between Predator and prey is well done, cleverly delivering a variety of kills and clever ways for Naru to fight back with brains where she lacks in brawn. The movie stumbles a bit in her arc. It understands that she needs to try, fail and eventually succeed – and presents us both sides of that line, but it doesn’t quite connect as satisfyingly as it could. Instead of Naru learning something that unlocks her success, at a point in the movie she just flips a switch and starts kicking ass. She goes from struggling with her bow to taking out a village of French fur trappers with an rope ax and then flinging it back into her hand like Thor’s hammer in 2 days. Again, the heroine of Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane provides a better example of this in execution.
With the first Predator such a hyper-almost-satirical show of masculinity, a movie centered around Arnold Schwarzenegger being such a machine that only an alien species would provide him a challenge, flipping the dynamic to it’s diametric opposite is a worthy angle. Maybe I’m reading a lot into this but I got the impression that the predator in this film was also on it’s first hunt. Some sort of Predator species version of the Comanche ritual Naru was engaging in, matching them in parallel motivations.
Still, all of the would-haves and what-if’s of this movie come from viewing it as a Predator prequel, as a film it is very well done and a lot of fun. I enjoyed it more than any Predator sequel since Predator 2 twenty years ago. It’s a back-to-basics approach that works.