Directed By: Dan Trachtenberg
Release Date: August 5, 2022
Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Another Predator
It's hard to believe that it's only been four years since Shane Black's The Predator arrived and kneecapped the very franchise it was trying to reinvigorate. Thanks to the pandemic, it feels instead that that film released a lifetime ago, and though my initial thoughts on it back in 2018 were that it wasn't completely terrible, revisiting the film again during the pandemic actually strengthened my dislike of it -- were I to review it now, you'd undoubtedly find a much more unforgiving take from me. That said, ironically, without its failure, we likely wouldn't have the latest film, Prey, Dan Trachtenberg's prequel that strips away all of the excess The Predator reveled in and takes the series back to formula in a way that reinforces the idea that, with this franchise, less will always be more.
Set in 1719, nearly 300 years before the events of the original Predator, Prey follows a young Comanche woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder) as she strives to prove herself as a hunter in a culture of strict gender roles where she's expected to be a healer. In the shadow of her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), Naru sets out to break the mold by hunting and taking down a cougar, just as a Predator has arrived in the area on a hunt of its own. Inevitably, of course, the two wannabe hunters' paths cross, with both of their skills put to the test to see who comes out on top, predator or prey. (See what I did there?)
Just as in the original film and, I'd argue, Predator 2, which I've happily defended, Prey benefits from an incredibly streamlined story. Like the elite squad of burly soldiers led by Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) or the world-weary cop Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) trying to solve a case in the urban jungle of Los Angeles before her - well, technically, after her - Naru is a protagonist out of her depth against the Predator, both physically and in time; where the protagonists of the original films at least had the luxury of modern weaponry (even if having guns amounted to little benefit), Naru has little more than a bow and arrow, a hatchet, and a very loyal, scene-stealing dog named Sarii (Coco) to rely on, and ultimately the film stays on target in focusing on how Naru observes the strengths and weaknesses of others, including the Predator, and learns from them to improve upon herself. There's no love interest, no needless subplots about personal strife with others... The film lays out from the get-go who Naru is and who she wants to become and never strays from her arc, the Predator the ultimate catalyst to help her grow.
Midthunder, who I liked on all three seasons of Legion despite, admittedly, being overshadowed by powerhouses like Dan Stevens, Jean Smart, and Aubrey Plaza, has to practically carry this film entirely on her shoulders, an unenviable task that she pulls off so effortlessly. Though she has great rapport with first-time actor Dakota Beavers - whose Taabe is a stand-up guy and brother, wonderfully subverting certain gender tropes in a way I didn't expect - much of the film is Midthunder left on her own to utilize wordless physicality and expressions, something she excels at, and the film's active avoidance of feeling the need to have Naru perpetually talk to herself to relay her feelings to the audience serves to emphasize the film's aforementioned less is more policy, trusting the strength of Midthunder's performance and the audience to get it all without a line of dialogue having to be spoken.
Pick a Month: