To be completely honest, I've grown so weary of the Predator films that by the time I sat down with Prey, essentially an origin story serving as Predator 5, my expectations were low and my hopes were modest at best.
So, hey, color me pleasantly surprised. While it's a relatively low bar, Prey is easily the best Predator film since the 1987 original with a return to roots approach that is refreshing and a surprising soulfulness that hooked me early on and kept my attention from beginning to end. Prey is lean and mean, an ultraviolent thriller that takes its storyline seriously and demands far more authenticity and character development than we're used to seeing from the franchise. Prey follows Naru (Amber Midthunder, Hell or High Water, The Ice Road), a member of the Comanche Nation in this 1719 set film as her attempts to prove her hunting prowess not only occasionally put her at odds with the men in her tribe but also a mysterious new predator for which there is no explanation.
I can't help but picture the film's many Indigenous cast members reading the script for the first time and being astounded that they were portraying characters rich in development and with respect and dignity. It's clear that director Dan Trachtenberg and scribe Patrick Aison have made great efforts to give the film as much substance and style and to ensure the Indigenous portrayals are natural and authentic. In a Hollywood where caricatures still abound, it's refreshing to see a film make a strong effort to do things the right way. This includes, of course, assembling a simply outstanding ensemble cast led by Midthunder and Dakota Beavers as her brother Taabe. The two share a believable chemistry, an abundance of heart giving nearly everything that unfolds in Prey greater meaning and emotional resonance. '
I'm not sure I ever expected to write about emotional resonance in a Predator review.
Unsurprisingly, Naru intuitively senses this foreign presence long before the others. Trusting her instinct, Naru embarks on a journey to determine the source of this presence and finds her strength challenged as she faces down the harsh environment, brutal colonizers, and this alien predator seemingly intent on fierce brutality. Filmed largely in Calgary, Prey embraces the starkness and inherent danger of its surroundings and Jeff Cutter's lensing makes sure we're as immersed in and uncomfortable with the surroundings as these characters. Original music by Sarah Schachner embraces earthiness and yet still amps up the anxiety and thrills.
Prey soars on the strength of Midthunder's mesmerizing work as Naru, work that had me mumbling as the closing credits rolled "Can we just have Amber Midthunder in all the Predator films from now on?" As under-appreciated by her tribe as is Adrien Brody's Predators by moviegoers, Midthunder's Naru is fierce, protective, vulnerable to the world around her, and also connected to that very world in hypnotic ways. Midthunder pulls it all off magnificently.
There's no denying that deeper meaning abounds in Prey, deeper meaning that practically mandated faithfulness to historical truths and cultural awareness. Colonization is radiating from the bones of Prey and there's unflinching brutality that is both vividly realized and thoughtfully created. Trachtenberg consulted with well-known producer Jhane Myers, whose attention to detail is well established and whose Blackfoot and Comanche backgrounds have clearly informed Prey.
Prey isn't a perfect film, yet it revives a franchise that needed reviving if it had hopes of continuing. The return to Predator's mythological and horror/thriller roots is both a smart decision and a tremendously effective one. While you've likely been more overwhelmed in a Predator film than you likely will be here, seldom will you have experienced such an engaging array of satisfying action, appealing imagery, substantial storytelling, and characters who mean something to you.
Prey opens on Hulu on August 5th here in the U.S. and via other streaming outlets globally.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic