The latest installment in the Predator franchise, Prey, continues the trend of having each entry acting as a standalone story. There’s no continuation of a wider narrative, there’s nothing that connects Prey to Predator other than the hulking alien creature stalking their characters, and that’s actually incredibly refreshing in the landscape of modern cinema. Combined with the fact that Prey is a prequel to the original Predator, it could plausibly serve as an entry point into the franchise for the uninitiated.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), Prey is set in 1719 and follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comache woman. Despite being trained as a healer, Naru dreams of being a hunter, and sets off to prove herself to her tribe. Of course, there’s an unseen Predator at large, and Naru decides to hunt it as a means of proving her skill.
In all honesty, that brief summary doesn’t do Prey much justice. Its story is underpinned by elements of Native American culture and history, and Naru as a character is written exceptionally well, giving her an emotional depth that’s surprising for a Predator movie. With a protagonist that feels at once realistic and larger than life, Prey gets off to a great start.
Being that the film is set three centuries ago, its action doesn’t make use of the same trigger-happy warfare that the original Predator does. Instead, it’s a more careful, deliberate sort of action that really lends added credence to the film’s horror elements. The Predator is strong, fast, and efficient, and Naru is forced to employ every hunting and survival trick she can in order to survive. It’s that specific narrative device that makes Prey‘s approach so refreshing: Naru is perhaps the most human of the franchise’s protagonists to date, and that makes the film’s story work so much better than expected.
Amber Midthunder’s performance as Naru is brilliant, particularly as she spends much of the movie alone. Midthunder is able to perfectly evoke the look of both prey and predator, communicating by turns a sense of how Naru is both fearful and fearsome. Dakota Beavers also delivers a sound performance as Taabe, Naru’s brother, and is responsible for one of the most emotional moments of the movie.
There’s also a great many small ways that Prey explores its themes and ideas better than the franchise has previously attempted. Lots of framing shots focus on small animals being hunted, working its way up the food chain until the Predator itself steps in and lays waste to everything living around it. The way in which Trachtenberg frames certain scenes creates parallels that makes it clear exactly who the prey is (hint: it’s the humans who think they have a chance).
There’s a lot that Prey does right, but the biggest of them is the most important part: it nails the concept of survival horror. The Predator itself is often only glimpsed fleetingly (much like in the original Predator), and that serves to build the atmosphere of tension that Prey needs to sell its story. The use of a smaller protagonist who hunts using her wits is also a refreshing change – there’s little to pull apart in Prey‘s premise, because Naru isn’t trying to match the Predator’s brawn. The resolution to Prey‘s climactic scene is also teased by Naru’s earlier hunt, which makes for a nice, neat, cyclical feel to its story that makes Prey‘s ending all the more satisfying.
Everything about Prey is achieved exactly the way it should be. Its horror elements are carefully crafted but not oversold, and its action is every bit as fast-paced and brutal as one would expect from a Predator movie. This makes Prey one of the best entries into the franchise to date, with its innovations serving as an interesting counterpoint to the ideas of the original movie. What makes it work so well is that Trachtenberg clearly considered the ideas behind the movie and its horror carefully, and worked to subtly but securely reinforce them throughout.
Prey is, by far, a step up for the franchise. Bringing the ideas of the Predator franchise into the modern age with a more thoughtful and carefully considered film is something that was desperately needed, and its clear that Dan Trachtenberg was the person for the job. By keeping its horror, sci-fi, and action in check and allowing Prey‘s story and characters to speak for themselves, Trachtenberg has delivered a shining example of the places the Predator franchise needs to go.
Summary: Prey expands the Predator franchise in the best way possible: subtly and tactfully. The prequel brings the franchise back to its roots while still pushing it forward, exploring the deeper themes and the ideas behind the story as opposed to simply delivering another helping of senseless brutality.
Highlight: The film’s climactic battle, which sees Naru employ the many skills and lessons she’s learned, is a powerful and triumphant moment that rivals the exceptional ending of the original Predator.