The Predator franchise has always been a mixed bag. Following John McTiernan’s 1987 original, which turned 35 this year, the subsequent instalments failed to live up to the leanness that made the OG Predator a success, due to an attempt to ramp up the action or delve into the mythos of the Predators themselves. After Shane Black’s failed attempt to reinvigorate the franchise with 2018’s The Predator, much like the Alien series, perhaps it was time for the Predator to retire from hunting. However, with a change of scenery and time period, has the Predator found a new home to do what it does best?
Seven years after his debut feature film 10 Cloverfield Lane, director Dan Trachtenberg, along with screenwriter Patrick Aison, goes back in time for the latest Predator instalment. Set in 1719, Prey centers on Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman trained as a healer, but dreams of becoming a great hunter like her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers). Although her tribe doesn’t have much faith towards her aspirations, Naru has to fight to protect her home against an alien hunter that has landed on Earth.
Although the sequels have tried to expand upon the Predators and their world, the franchise was at its best when leaning into the simplicity of the eponymous alien whose whole purpose was to hunt. The 1987 original understood this, blending the macho action movie with the slasher movie, two very popular genres in the eighties. It may not be saying much that Prey is the best Predator since the first, but with a running time of 99 minutes, it is simply about the hunter being the hunted.
Considering how popular the franchise has been throughout the decades, the Predator as a movie antagonist is no longer refreshing and no matter what new designs the various filmmakers have come up, the sense of dread is gone. While Prey somewhat rushes the introduction of its monstrous figure, the movie manages to find its own feet, from the design of the Predator itself, to the inventive set-pieces where man and animal are hunted in gory effect. The action of the original film was always evolving, starting with guns blazing to eventually makeshift traps and weapons, and Prey is all about the latter, raising the intensity of seeing the human characters fighting to survive with primitive weaponry, compared to their enemy’s advanced technology.
Given how male-driven the series has been, it feels refreshing having a female protagonist who has to prove herself that she is as worthy as a hunter as her fellow tribesmen. It is an arc we have perhaps seen too many times, but Amber Midthunder delivers a star-making turn as along with her canine co-star, you are rooting for her, during every situation where she is either hurt and use her wits to survive.
While characterization in Prey is minimal, that is not to due to the cast, who show a positive representation of the Comanche Nation, most notably through the use of language, including a form of sign language. Considering the decades-long cinematic mistreatment of Native Americans and during this current age where representation should matter, it is wonderful seeing a Hollywood genre film doing so much for a particular culture.
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