Prey Synopsis: Naru, A skilled Comanche warrior (Amber Midthunder), protects her tribe from a highly evolved alien predator that hunts humans for sport, fighting against the wilderness, dangerous colonizers, and this mysterious creature to keep her people safe.
The lurking Predator finds a worthy foe when invading a Comanche tribe in Prey. I’ll concede my bias – I am a bit of a Predator superfan. The 1987 original is one of my favorite byproducts of the 80s action movie heyday, seamlessly meshing the era’s penchant for verbose violence with sly comedic and intellectual bite.
Opinions may vary on the Predator sequels, but I don’t think there is a terrible film in the bunch (although I wouldn’t necessarily call 2018’s tonally wonky The Predator a success story). Predators 2 is supremely overlooked in its deviation from sequel formula in favor of an intriguing genre fusion set amidst the sweat-induced hell of a Los Angeles summer. Even 2010’s Predators, which bares the most resemblance to the original, still discovers a distinctive and atmospheric voice from its ensemble of cutthroat protagonists. Each film keeps the franchise’s hunter-verse-hunted backbone intact while embracing its own appealing aesthetic flavor.
With Prey, Director Dan Trachtenberg and Screenwriter Patrick Aison transport the ominous Predator into 1720s America – an era defined by dividing ties between colonizers and the native tribes inhabiting the land. The duo’s intriguing change of pace pays enormous dividends as Prey elicits another wonderfully gnarly genre exercise for the Predator franchise.
There is a certain elegance in the simplicity Trachtenberg and Aison maintain throughout Prey. Instead of feeding futile exposition to viewers, the duo wisely entrench their barebones narrative in the allures an intensely atmospheric mood. Trachtenberg, who accomplished a similarly impressive feat with IP material in 10 Cloverfield Lane, plays to the series’ strengths while defining his distinctive frequency – often cloaking his woodsy Great Plains setting in oppressive mist and ominous shadows. The lingering unease commands a stranglehold on viewers as the Predator begins his descent onto the valley.
I appreciate how much Trachtenberg and Aison let their visual profile speak volumes about the series’ defining thematic characteristic. Trachtenberg reinforces ruminations on the hunt-or-be-hunted dynamic motivating Naru and her tribe through several other forces, whether it’s the unstoppable rage of a grizzly bear or the looming presence of cynical colonizers. This clash between nature, man, and the haunting Predator exhibit the shared hunter’s code buried beneath the character’s primal acts of violence.
For all its unique qualities, Prey still maintains the gleeful genre allures of the Predator franchise. Trachtenberg and Cinematographer Jeff Cutter display a capable steadiness behind the camera as they convey a variety of blood-soaked conflicts. The decision to frame most of these duals as close-quarters affairs help escalate the inherent tension embedded in each encounter. I also appreciate Trachtenberg’s creativity throughout Prey as he takes advantage of the period setting’s antiquated technology and nature-based environment.
Much of Prey’s strengths would not connect without star Amber Midthunder. As the steadfast Naru, Midthunder exhibits expressive subtleties in a largely wordless performance. Her commanding hold of the material helps mitigate some of the screenplay’s notable deficiencies. As much as the film vies for articulating the Commanche perspective, I wish Aison fleshed out his characters and thematic ideals with a little more depth (the colonizer element could have more impact if treated with proper gravitas). Prey also lacks the deft balance of levity and tension that made Predator and Predators 2 such idiosyncratic oddities.
Slight missteps aside, Prey works as a fresh iteration and a seamless continuation of the Predator franchise. It’s a bummer this is not getting the theatrical treatment, but I am sure diehard fans of the franchise will still gleam onto the project.
Prey debuts on Hulu on August 5.
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