An all-new action- thriller set in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago. It is the story of a young woman, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled warrior who has been raised in the shadow of some of the most legendary hunters who roam the Great Plains. So when danger threatens her camp, she sets out to protect her people. The prey she stalks, and ultimately confronts, turns out to be a highly evolved alien predator with a technically advanced arsenal, resulting in a vicious and terrifying showdown between the two adversaries.
Back in 1987 director John McTiernan introduced one of the more fearsome creatures in sci-fi history with Predator. But in the years that followed others have failed to re-create the fear-inducing magic of the original. Upping the ante even proved to be the undoing of 2018’s The Predator which grossed $160M worldwide but garnered some of the franchise’ worst reviews.
But with 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s Dan Trachtenberg at the helm it’s time to correct the ship with the excellent Prey. Without a shadow of doubt, Trachtenberg’s story and Patrick Aison’s screenplay comes closest to capturing what made the original so great. Stripping away all of the window dressing and concentrating on the formidable alien race seems obvious. But by doing just that, Trachtenberg refocusses the story and hones in on its best facets.
The cat-and-mouse game between Schwarzenegger and the alien was compulsive viewing to the bitter end. Prey doubles down on that by layering in some contemporary character development and politics. Our lead, Naru, played by the outstanding Amber Midthunder is an action heroine through-and-through. But over the course of 100 minutes we don’t only see Naru going toe-to-toe with the Predator. She also has to overcome the gender politics of her Comanche tribe.
Set 300 years in our past, Naru exists are part of nomadic tribe of Comanche where the men are hunters and the women are homemakers. It’s a very typical setup but more importantly it remains true to historical accounts of the Native American tribe. Trachtenberg and Aison use the setup to tell a simple story of a woman fighting to be taken seriously amongst her peers. It’s by no means heavy handed and fits perfectly with Prey‘s overall narrative.
Midthunder, fellow cast members Dakota Beavers, Stormee Kipp Harlan Blayne Kytwayhat and all the Comanche tribe are wonderfully cast. They feel authentic and this is only added to by the work of costume supervisor Javier Arrieta. All of the main Comanche cast are given moments of action, either during the hunt or against the Predator. Their strength of presence on camera transcends the sparse dialogue to still portray individual character traits.
Snippets of the Comanche language sneak in to the dialogue for added authenticity. The film isn’t heavy with dialogue and could easily have existed fully in Comanche. A dub of the film will be available and may actually take Prey from 4 to 5 stars for me. It’s historical roots and authenticity are one of its most compelling aspects and treated with surprising adoration.
The film’s title, with its simplistic nature, is perfect. It’s too easy to write off the human characters as the titular prey. Particularly with their crude, homemade weaponry. But as we traverse the beautiful scenery the role of hunter and prey switches back and forth multiple times. Ultimately Naru’s story of empowerment leads her to become the hunter. But that unexpected edge is what makes the conclusion of Prey so enthralling.
Prey is much lower in budget than 2018’s $88M The Predator but it packs a punch where it counts. The older Predator armour looks impressive, as do the practical makeup effects which bring the creature to life. The film’s visuals clearly show that decisions were made to prioritise key moments over others. Some of the action featuring Predator weaponry does stretch the budget to its limits. But in the context of such a well executed film, it’s entirely forgivable.
The direction of Trachtenberg’s story is one that other franchises should absolutely emulate in future. It proves that bigger isn’t always better. It also proves that a lower budget doesn’t equal a lower quality product. More of this in future please…
By taking the Predator franchise back-to-basics Dan Trachtenberg has crafted one of its most visceral and effective entries to-date.
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