Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Review: PREY

 by Rob DiCristino

Get it?

A young girl sits alone, toiling with the same repetitive household tasks as her mothers and grandmothers before her. She should be grateful and fulfilled; this work is delicate, requiring care and precision to execute correctly. It’s valuable. Essential. She is respected for her efforts. But she can’t help but feel that her fathers and brothers — out hunting, scouting, and dying gloriously at war — are the ones having all the fun. She didn’t ask to be born a woman, and she refuses to let that limit her chances at that same glory. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a hunter, as good as any other in the Comanche Nation and twice as good as her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers). The Great Plains stretch out before her, filled with all the lethal carnivores and foreign invaders she’d need to prove herself to the elders and become a fully-initiated warrior. But instead, Naru looks to the sky. She’s seen something there, something reminiscent of the scary campfire stories of her childhood. It descends into the trees, looking graceful and deadly. It’s a hunter, like Naru. A man eater. A predator.
Trouble is, no one believes Naru. How could they? A beast from the stars? An invisible hunter with metal claws and laser weapons? The year is 1719, and even the wealthiest fur trappers wield muskets and flintlock pistols, weapons only slightly more advanced than the arrows, axes, and spears used by her Comanche brothers. Nevertheless, Naru persists. She heads out alone, determined to protect her home from this new threat. Along the way, though, she must train. She must be more accurate with her ax. She must learn to avoid the animal traps and other pitfalls that have taken out scores of would-be warriors before her. Most of all, she must observe how this predator deals with other threats, how it draws dogs, bears, and other humans into a confrontation before dispatching them with ease. It seems to be learning, and so far it hasn’t learned to see Naru as a worthy adversary. It keeps ignoring her, letting her go. But Naru won’t take much more of that. She’s been ignored too long. She will earn this predator’s respect, face it as an equal, and destroy it.

In this age of bloated IP and legacy sequels that promise to “give the franchise back to the fans” through calculated pandering and empty nostalgia, Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey is a refreshing standout, a sequel that retains an essential spirit from its original while delivering an entirely different cinematic experience. Make no mistake: Prey is a far cry from the beefy ‘80s action of the original Predator film, the social commentary of its underrated sequel, or the busy world-building of the 2000s reboots. It’s a quiet, almost serene adventure that prioritizes setting, character, and scale over brawny theatrics. It’s stripped-down in the best possible way, with just a handful of meaningful players and a storyline so simple that it could easily play without dialogue. Directing a screenplay by Patrick Alison, Trachtenberg perfectly balances a clear reverence for the franchise with the needs of a unique story worth telling all on its own, one that still manages to expand Predator lore and bring a fresh perspective from its Native American characters.
Trachtenberg, who established his genre bonafides with the suspenseful 10 Cloverfield Lane, has a keen eye for action that punctuates drama, propels story, and develops character. Nearly every beat of Prey is a learning moment for Naru — one that sets up a weapon, item, or skill to be paid off later with a symmetry that will excite my fellow screenplay nerds — and it’s a true joy to watch her hone that technique as she prepares for the final battle. That doesn’t mean Prey skimps on the visuals, though, as Trachtenberg stages the film against real, wide-open spaces shot exclusively with natural light and brings as much realism to his Comanche characters’ life and culture as possible. The film is somehow both minimalist in design and exceedingly cinematic, a blend that stings all the more given Disney’s decision to debut it on Hulu. The Predator cache may not be strong enough to bring audiences out to theaters for a fourth sequel (sixth, if one insists on counting the Alien vs. Predator films), but Prey is more than worthy of the silver screen.
Still, some will argue that the Predator series is about bombastic gunfights and sexual tyrannosaurs. They’ll say Prey lacks the over-the-top glee of previous entries and speculate online about whether or not its young female protagonist underwent the proper training before facing her bloodthirsty opponent. Those folks are entitled to their opinions, but they’ll be missing out on an opportunity to help change the way studios look at their franchises, a chance to find some sort of balance between sequels that scratch familiar itches and those that look for new possibilities. Prey is — as the title suggests — a different flavor of Predator, but even stubborn originalists may embrace its tactile and intelligent approach to a franchise that, if we’re all being honest, could use a bit of a retooling. There’s plenty of room for Trachtenberg’s approach, and it might even inspire those who have long since left the Predator films behind to give them another look. Maybe some of them will follow Prey’s example with their own favorite franchises. Maybe we’ll fix all this after all.

Prey comes to Hulu this Friday.


  1. So... If you like it, that mean it's bad? 🤣

  2. Wtf. This isn't getting a theatrical release? I could watch it on my phone, sure, but I'd rather see it at a theatre. Take my money Disney!!! Don't give it to me for free on Disney+ (I'm already subscribed, so it's like it's free).

    Nice review Rob. I'm looking forward to it more than ever.