Prey is the best Predator movie since… well, Predator. It deepens and enriches the mythology of the franchise but is also unique and stands on its own as a movie. You can enjoy the callbacks, or you can appreciate a ripping good adventure yarn well told without all the baggage. This will probably be in a lot of reviews you read about Prey, but this should have been in theaters.
It’s absolutely built for that – there are moments I jumped and there are moments I wanted to applaud, but well, it’s a bit strange to watch a movie so built around the communal experience and not have other people around to say, “Wow, did you see THAT?!” to. My advice – have friends over, get out the sodas (or beers), have some snacks, and take in this well-executed, passionately made thrill ride.
Prey is directed by Dan Trachtenberg – his debut film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, did the most with a small setting, a few characters, and as much tension as he could wring out of it. It’s a hell of a feature film debut, and Trachtenberg makes the most of it.
Prey is larger in scope, but Trachtenberg has learned the lessons of making an intimate thriller like 10 Cloverfield Lane – by restricting yourself, and keeping the story focused like a laser beam, you actually expand on the world you’re creating in the imaginations of your audience.
It’s a lesson that Steven Spielberg learned in making Jaws, and Trachtenberg paid attention. There are sequences in Prey that are among the best of the franchise, and the film uses what we know about the Predator to manage expectations and build suspense.
These characters are vastly outgunned and in serious trouble – if Arnold Schwarzenegger, loaded to bear with automatic weaponry, struggled to defeat this thing, what hope do Comanches in the 1700s, armed with mere bows and arrows, have?
It is 1719 on the Great Plains, and though white settlers have not arrived in great numbers yet, they are surely coming. Naru (Amber Midthunder), of the Comanche Nation, wants to take part in the hunt and be respected as a strong and noble warrior. But she has not taken her test as a hunter yet, and her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) doesn’t think Naru is ready.
But Naru sees a sign in the sky – a giant craft comes through the clouds, and Naru takes the Predator’s arrival as an omen. Soon, with her trusty dog, Naru makes her way into the wilderness to find whatever is hunting her people, alone, and in the dark.
To set up more of the movie would be unwise — there are twists and unexpected reveals that shouldn’t be spoiled for unsuspecting audiences — but sometimes the simplest premise is the most effective. Trachtenberg and script writer Patrick Aison let us know up front that this is a Predator movie, but if you haven’t seen any of the other films, you’re still fine.
For those of us who have, Trachtenberg and Aison know what our expectations are and subvert them in the best ways. We know the Predator is hunting warriors, but we also know that the Predator’s weaponry can make quick work of pretty much anyone that it comes across. The way that Trachtenberg plays with what we expect is masterful, and there are several sequences that do not play out as we anticipate.
Amber Midthunder as Naru is absolutely a star here – we root for her early on and she more than holds her own not just in the action, but in the empathy and believability of the character and the situation. I hope we see a lot more of her in the coming years. I also hope that we see more of this character – I would love to see this story continue.
The Predator looks a little different this time around, perhaps due to the time frame that Prey is set in, but the Predator gadgets, which have always been a fun part of this franchise, are very cool and well executed. I also loved Dane DiLiegro’s performance as the Predator, and he and Midthunder have a great hunter/hunted synchronicity that is exciting to watch.
All the previous Predator films get something of a callback in Prey, but Prey encompasses all of them without compromising its own agency and relevance. More importantly, is exciting and thrilling on its own. Prey gives us characters to cheer for, and villains to hiss at. There are some gnarly kills, and edge-of-your-seat action sequences. It’s incredibly well shot, but also full of passionate performances that are not mere cookie cutter.
This franchise could do a lot worse than Dan Trachtenberg at the helm, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of him here, but I also understand why a director of his talents would want to move on to other things. One thing is for certain – Trachtenberg comes from a great line of directors who make the most of every moment and knows how to make audiences happy without coddling to them or catering to their whims.
Prey is a fantastic adventure movie, a fantastic Predator movie, and again, this should have been in theaters. It would have made $100 million, easy. If you decide to watch this, bring friends over – it’s that kind of movie.
PREY REVIEW SCORE: 9 OUT OF 10
The 20th Century Studios release will be available on Hulu Friday, August 5, 2022. Prey is rated R for strong bloody violence.