by Rob DiCristino
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.
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.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.
Prey comes to Hulu this Friday.