An iconic franchise was born when Arnold Schwartzenegger and Carl Weathers completed the coolest handshake in world history. The slap, the one-liners, and the terror of being hunted by extraterrestrials summed up the 1980s. While uber-machoism and gnarly gore became the film’s trademarks, Predator became something. Equal parts political commentary about US militarism in Central America, and critique of the action films of the era, Predator became a forerunner to meta-comedies of the 1980s. Through its straightforward and sincere approach to the material, it provided stakes to the survival at all costs narrative. Finally, after four films attempting to recapture that magic, Prey finds the path forward for the franchise.
Set in the early 1700s, a young Comanche hunter Naru (Amber Midthunder), attempts to prove her worth to her tribe. Her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) knows her talent is not in doubt. However, he knows Naru must mature and take stock of her surroundings before she can earn her place. The rest of the tribe does not believe in Naru’s warrior and hunter path, leading to clashes with her family and friends. When she sneaks her way into the hunting party, she finds herself face-to-face with a creature unlike any the village has ever seen.
Directed by Daniel Trachtenberg, Prey offers plenty of nods to previous installments to keep hardcore Predator fans interested. Luckily, Trachtenberg’s career as a franchise booster comes in handy. After previously pumping juice into 10 Cloverfield Lane, the director finds nuances within the story to tell the most visually unique film in the franchise. Trachtenberg’s redesign of our monster further differentiates the film from others in the franchise. This Predator quickly takes the title for scariest in the franchise since the original, an element missing from most of the sequels.
Subbing out the jungles of South America for the forests of North America paves the way for brilliant landscapes. Cinematographer Jeff Cutler took a Revenant-esque approach to the film, and as a result, the use of natural lighting paints the screen with truly gorgeous shots. His use of well-placed fog heightens the danger, but also allows him to slowly reveal critical elements at play. Many of the real environments feel tactile, even when the inevitable CG finds its way into the screen.
Midthunder dominates the screen, perfectly cast as a survivor who recognizes the danger on the prowl. Her eyes are gigantic, and with hunting party makeup drawing our attention to them, she showcases the diverse emotions necessary for her arc. She compares favorably to the long history of Scream Queens with the horrors that Tractenberg unleashes. Yet at the same time, she fits comfortably into the role of the discounted woman warrior. An easy comparison to make is that of Ripley from Alien, when in reality, she feels closer to Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger. She carries the film, both emotionally and physically.
The only real issue to take from the film is its frustrating pace. We spend a little too much time early in the story focused on a hunt that quickly takes a backseat. This does open up the story as a piece of commentary, one about disbelieving women who find themselves the victims of unseen violence. One can clearly see the ways in which colonizers abused indigenous people and disrespected the land itself. Many will argue that the film is a metaphor about the severity of climate change. After all, a seemingly unseen danger kills wildlife before it kills humans, allowing us to turn a blind eye to the danger that awaits us. While this time is often spent trying to flush out these narratives, Prey may become a richer text for this time, but delays the momentum of the film in the process.
For fans of the Predator franchise, we finally found the way forward. Prey does not just tell us the days of focusing on burly men hunting a creature in the woods are over. It explicitly reminds us those days have been over for some time. While we may wish to chase that tale, we have already seen the fruitless endeavors of previous films. Instead, a more emotional and mentally stimulating journey can await us by telling new stories with Predator lore. We simply have to dig deep enough to find them.
Alan’s Rating: 8/10
Prey releases on Hulu on August 5th, 2022. It is distributed by 20th Century Studios.
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