"Prey" stars Amber Midthunder, Dane DiLiegro, Dakota Beavers, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, and Julian Black Antelope. Released on Hulu on August 5, 2022, the film has a skilled warrior defending her tribe from an alien hunter.
The film was directed by Dan Trachtenberg, known for directing "10 Cloverfield Lane". It is the fifth installment in the "Predator" franchise and a prequel to the first four films. "Predator" is an undeniable action classic that combines sci-fi terror with a refreshing take on the prey vs. predator scenario. Plus, it offers several men with big-ass muscles. Its success led to several follow-ups that were entertaining in their own right but lacked the qualities that made the original a sci-fi horror gem. Not even the recent installment in 2018 can match what the first film accomplished despite its modern setting and cast. There are also a couple of movies that pit the Predator against the monstrous Xenomorphs, but that's the story for another time. Today, the franchise is looking to bounce back again for another bloody hunt against the humans. However, instead of continuing where "The Predator" left off, the series is taking another new direction in hopes of winning back its fans. We've seen the creature hunt its prey in the jungle, the city, and even on an alien planet. But we haven't seen it in action in another part of human history…until now. That's right, folks, this latest installment is heading towards prequel territory, as it takes audiences back in time to when the hunter first made contact with the human race. I haven't watched the "Predator" movies as much as the next guy, but I constantly get some enjoyment out of them when I do, mainly the original film. "The Predator", on the other hand, was something I could take or leave. But despite my thoughts on the last installment, I was eager to check out the prequel on Hulu, especially since it's helmed by Dan Trachtenberg, who did "10 Cloverfield Lane" six years ago. So was the movie able to reinvigorate the hunt that started 35 years ago, or was it another sign that the hunter should stay retired? Let's find out.
The story centers on Naru (Midthunder), a young Comanche healer dreaming of becoming a hunter like her brother, Taabe (Beavers). While hunting for food, Naru discovers something mysterious in the sky. It is later revealed to be a spaceship dropping off an otherworldly being onto Earth. The being is none other than the vicious Predator (DiLiegro), a highly evolved alien hunter that seeks and kills humans and animals for sport. With her tribe in danger of being its prey, Naru must prove her worth as a warrior by defeating the Predator at its own game.
The movie takes the blueprints out of the original film and 2010 installment, with characters fighting for survival in the woods. This setting is one of the well-known elements that drive the "Predator" films because of the vast environment and isolation. They left a compelling sensation of being alone, yet not completely alone, due to the fear of being watched by something you can't see. Some of the "Predator" sequels tend to provide different locations to spice the hunt up, with "Predator 2" and "The Predator" taking place in a modern city or town. Unfortunately, both films failed to capitalize on this idea regarding their screenplays and violence. So it makes sense that "Prey" went back to the basics to recapture the same experience as the original. But, of course, it provided another challenge for up-and-coming director Dan Trachtenberg to make the supposed cash grab watchable.
The story offers a simplistic tale of Naru's journey to defy the odds and become a warrior in her Comanche tribe. Since men were only suitable to fit in these roles back then, Naru is often looked down on by some of the tribe's members, including Wasape (Kipp). Despite being self-taught, Naru is seen as beneath them, so she sets out to hunt the Predator to prove them wrong. Simplicity in storytelling can be hit-and-miss depending on the execution. It doesn't need to be overly complex, but at the same time, it can't be dumbing its audience down to the point where it's insulting. "Prey" has the type of narrative that uses its simplicity to represent the mystery of the unknown and the character-driven moments in-between the action, which the previous installment lacked. Because of this, the film hearkens back to the 1987 movie while also providing a freshly enticing appeal to its presentation, resulting in it being a surprisingly massive improvement to the previous sequels.
One of the things that made "Prey" more refreshing than the rest is the characters. Instead of the usual group of soldiers and cops like in the last installments, "Prey" introduces a new group of skilled people from a different timeline: the Comanche tribe. Since the film is set in the 1700s, the weaponry is limited to bow and arrows, axes, and pistols. The same goes for the Predator, who's using primitive versions of the alien weaponry. The authenticity of the Comanche representation and traditions help generate a sense of genuine danger for the characters and provide some gripping tension in the film's thrilling sequences. More importantly, it suitably reflects the compelling characters and the importance of being a warrior. It doesn't come from just brute strength and bravery. It also comes from the mind, which Naru uses to fight her opponent. There's also some interest in the Predator, who's willing to attack those deemed worthy during its hunt.
Part of its authenticity comes from the cast, mainly the ones from the Native American community. Amber Midthunder had the task of carrying the film as its main lead, let alone a prequel to the sci-fi cult classic. I barely recognize Midthunder in her previous films since she's known for being in minor supporting roles, aside from last year's "The Ice Road", which was pretty underwhelming. So this movie was a great opportunity for me to see her talent front and center. That opportunity was well-deserved in my eyes, as Midthunder brought life into the ferocious Naru through her captivating performance. I wouldn't be surprised if her role resulted in her getting more deals in the movie business. Dakota Beavers and Michelle Thrush also delivered solid performances as Taabe and Aruka, Naru's mother, respectively.
From a technical aspect, "Prey" is a great-looking "Predator" movie. The cinematography by Jeff Cutter reflects the Great Plains and the violence to a varying degree without being an eyesore for its shock value. There are also some visual effects that worked well for the Predator design and action sequences. Unfortunately, the only tiny issue I had with the visuals is that the CGI on the animals almost ruined the film's illusion. It's understandable why they made that decision, but they could've had more time to patch the CGI up to make them blend with the environment.
The movie also shows Trachtenberg as another filmmaker worth looking out for regarding his direction in the sci-fi genre. He's another director who's not afraid to explore the small-scale side of specific sci-fi elements with precise skill and confidence. His previous movie, "10 Cloverfield Lane", saw him deliver a tensely gripping character-driven experience that took advantage of its claustrophobic setting and alien invasion concept. I remembered liking that film for that reason alone. "Prey" has him providing a similar experience, but with an open environment and more blood, and the result is nothing but impressive. Trachtenberg delivers a consistent balance that combines the character-driven horror element with the qualities of a "Predator" film, including its kills. The film doesn't rely too much on overexposing the gore. Instead, it uses the terror in the violence to generate shock value, something that the previous installment lacked.
Overall, "Prey" is a skillfully-crafted and immensely intense prey-vs-predator scenario that benefitted from the cast and technical qualities. More importantly, it is a refreshing return to the basic yet enticing formula that made "Predator" a sci-fi horror classic. This movie falls in the same line as "Bumblebee", another franchise prequel that improved on its previous installments. They offer everything fans want from the respective franchises and deliver great narratives filled with compelling character moments and small-scale sequences. As a result, both of them revived the source materials with a unique direction that'll play significant roles in future installments. From its alluring cast to its superb use of tension and violence, "Prey" is another franchise prequel done right, making it the best "Predator" film since the original and one of the best movies of 2022. If you're a fan of the sci-fi franchise or in the mood for something involving R-rated violence and aliens, the film is worth checking out on Hulu.