If you’ve watched any of the Predator films, you’ll know that the first is a great sci-fi action flick, and the rest are varying degrees of not-so-good. That’s all changed with Prey, the latest instalment in the hit and miss franchise that released on Disney+ over the weekend. From 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg, this is the return to form fans have been waiting for.
Prey follows Naru (Amber Midhunter), a Native American woman of the Comanche tribe who is desperate to prove herself as a hunter among peers who believe she should stick to being a healer. To break free from the gender stereotypes placed upon her, she must undertake her Kühtammia – a rite of passage where she must hunt the mountain lion that has terrorised her tribe. “You want to hunt something that's hunting you?” her brother Taabe asks, which obviously is a more prescient sentiment than he anticipated given a young Predator is currently stalking the same area, itching for a fight.
I won’t spoil the whole plot, but I’d recommend watching the film before reading any criticism for the best experience as I and others will naturally discuss some plot points over as part of our critique. Prey is a film to be experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible. It’s not that deep, it’s period science fiction and a coming of age tale set in a seemingly authentic Native American setting, but it’s very good, and anything that’s very good is worth experiencing firsthand.
First, we need to talk about the setting. Preyis set in the early 18th Century, and we follow Comanche characters throughout. It’s a brilliant concept, and so much more creative than any other Predator sequel, arguably other than AvP, in which the execution ruined the underlying creativity. The original film saw a group of commandos take on the universe’s most deadly hunter, and nearly every subsequent film has pitted groups of soldiers or killers against a Predator (or three) with guns and grenades galore.
While Naru is a skilled, if inexperienced, hunter, the 18th century setting means that guns are a rarity, and never handled by the Comanche until after they encounter the French trappers. The wilderness is also an obstacle for Naru, as she tries to fight off bears and escape from colonist traps, which was never the case for Arnie in the jungles of Guatemala. If a bear attacked him (or a gang of enemy soldiers) he has a perfectly good machine gun and obscenely large muscles. Naru has an axe on some home-made string and little more than her hunter instincts to help her survive. Of course Arnie ditches his guns by the end and Naru picks one up, but she never has the safety net of military technology to damage her foe.
There are parallels between Naru and the Predator here. This Predator is unlike the others we’ve seen, it too is from 300 years before the rest of the films. It hasn’t got a plasma cannon for one and it, like Naru, seems relatively inexperienced. This is supposedly the first Predator to land on Earth, and it shows. While its ultimate fate, like that of most Predators, is a consequence of its own hubris, in the meantime it also makes the most of the tools at its disposal. It’s not using bows and arrows like Naru and it still has its heat-vision, invisibility cloak, and homing bolts, but there are a few armaments that it hasn’t developed yet. That doesn’t stop the brutality though.
I would argue that the Predator’s lower-tech weapons adds to the visceral gruesomeness of its kills. Aside from some dodgy CGI on the animals in the first act, its fights with the American wildlife are savage and unrelenting. Don’t fear, Prey’s presence on Disney+ doesn’t mean we don’t see spines being ripped out or regular flayings. My personal favourite moment is when it lifts a savaged bear above its head in a display of strength and power, letting the giant beast’s blood pour over its cloaked body as its features are revealed for the first time.
Prey has the gore, it has the suspense, and it explores the relationship between predator and prey like any good Predator movie should. It’s clear the alien is hunting for sport and for a challenge – it doesn’t kill any helpless or captured victims, human or not – and Naru defeats it by supplementing her hunting skills with the knowledge she picks up while tracking it. Most of all, though, Prey succeeds because it does something new with the Predator, and the authentic Native American setting is infinitely more exciting than another modern-day special forces movie. Naru is also a far more interesting and appealing character than another regular Joe army dude, which credits both the writing and Amber Midthunder’s performance.
If films are to learn anything from Prey – future Predator films or any action blockbuster for that matter – it’s that doing something different with your series and creating a brilliant premise is half the battle. We’ve seen a hundred films that boil down to the army versus aliens, but how many Native Americans or similarly distinct cultures have we seen take on the same foe? Prey also understands the core concept of the Predator, which is where many of its sequels falter. Yes, it’s about hunters becoming the hunted, but many depictions forget that Predators abide by their own set of rules and ditch the interrogation of masculinity.The original is not just about incessant violence and bro jokes, and if you missed that then I suggest you watch it again.
That being said, I would love to see the Predator transplanted into different time periods in the future. Let him do battle with Edo-period Samurai or some New York mobsters and see how he fares. I’d love to see how the Ancient Egyptians would deal with a hunter of this calibre, so long as the film doesn’t pull a cheap twist and make him responsible for building the Pyramids.
Prey is comfortably the best Predator movie since the original, and only nostalgia prevents me from further hyperbole. If Disney+ recommends you watch The Predator (2018) next though, don’t click yes. Do not watch that film. Please. It’s for your own good.
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