Amber Midthunder - Naru
Dakota Beavers - Taabe
Dane DiLiegro - The Predator
Michelle Thrush - Aruka
Stormee Kipp - Wasape
Julian Black Antelope - Chief Kehetu
Bennett Taylor - Raphael Adolini
Genre - Science Fiction/Horror/Action/Thriller/Aliens
Running Time - 100 Minutes
On the Great Plains in 1719, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled Comanche warrior, sets out to protect her people when an unknown danger threatens them. But the prey she’s stalking turns out to be a highly evolved alien Predator with a technically advanced arsenal.
Despite having a huge fanbase, the Predator character hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to its big screen adventures. The 1987 original is still a peak action-thriller, with great one-liners and action sequences that have continued to inspire many action films today. And while I love 1990’s PREDATOR 2 [more people should], the rest of the series [including the 2 ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies] have struggled in quality due to protagonists not being as interesting or as memorable as the badass alien antagonist that continues to carry this series.
2018’s THE PREDATOR could have been a return to form, but it just ended up being a mixed bag due to actors having to play offbeat and silly characters to compensate for a messy script that should have been better considering director Shane Black was in the first [and still best] film. Not like 20th Century Fox was concerned anyway, considering they were about to be bought out by Disney in 2019, making any future PREDATOR movies their problem. But Disney sees money in milking a franchise, knowing PREDATOR has a huge fan base and needs a narrative overhaul.
With the new film being titled PREY, Disney [under the new 20th Century Studios banner] hired Dan Trachtenberg - the man who directed the best CLOVERFIELD sequel so far, 2016’s 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. With Trachtenberg wanting to do a prequel of PREDATOR that shows when the alien first landed on Earth in the 1700s to do battle with a tribe of Comache warriors, there was now hope and some promise for this franchise to gain its footing again. Trachtenberg realized the strength of the first PREDATOR is how basic it really is. It’s just an alien hunting down people, and vice-versa. No need for characters trying to be cool, other sci-fi characters to bring mainstream attention, or gimmicks. Trachtenberg just wanted the Predator to face a badass protagonist that could keep up with it. The PREDATOR franchise has always been a series about survival against a being that’s more technologically advanced. And with the film taking place in the 1700s against Native Americans, that makes for a really interesting idea.
Despite being dumped on Hulu for whatever reason [this film should have had a limited theatrical run at least], there’s nothing to fear about the quality of PREY. Considering the mixed results of any Predator movie after the second one, PREY is a breath of fresh air and the first film since 1990 to understand the series’ strengths. It’s a film that understands that while the villain is the main attraction, it never lets the Predator drive the movie as the main focus. Instead, it lets the Comache tribe [especially main character Naru] take control of the narrative - building character development and relationships between the tribe members, making the audience see right away that they’re outmatched by this alien creature until one of them plays defense and understands its tricks to use against it. It’s hunter versus hunter, which strengthens the film’s quality and watchability as a whole.
Some fans have been criticizing PREY as a “woke” project due to the film’s female protagonist, Naru, being able to keep up with the Predator and outsmart it throughout the movie. But I never saw the movie that way. Yes, it does focus on female empowerment and the misogyny of a Native American tribe towards the women of the group. Naru wants to be a hunter like her brother Taabe, but is urged by everyone around her to be an herbal doctor who has to treat the injured and sick after their hunts. But Naru, along with her dog Sarii, want to prove they can be just as good of hunters as the men. Naru has survival instincts, like being a great tracker, knowing when to fight and when to play defense, and observing the world around her to learn things about her foes that she could use against them. Naru isn’t a forced female badass that’s being written for some kind of agenda. This is her world and her life, learning everything she can to prove to her doubters that she can do it and survive. She’s not a character built to defeat a Predator. But she’s a character written intelligently to let us know that she has what it takes to defend herself and outsmart him however she can to survive this battle to save herself and her tribe. Naru is a character who is capable because of how she was raised, not because the filmmakers decided that the franchise needed a Sarah Connor type.
The supporting characters also have arcs that give them a bit of depth. Naru’s brother Taabe is the chosen one of the tribe, seen as the leader of the young hunters and treated like royalty in spite of Naru wanting to be seen as good as him. While Taabe could have been the stereotypical jerk of a brother who puts Naru down with an air of superiority, he actually roots for his sister to improve on her skills so she can be treated with as much respect as he is. Taabe even acknowledges that when he’s seen as a hero for certain actions, it’s Naru who had the right idea and instincts that only led to him finishing what she started. It’s a nice sibling dynamic between the two, as they have a mutual respect for the other and try to take down the Predator and a group of French fur traders. Speaking of the fur traders, they come across as your typical prejudiced colonizers who treat others that don’t look or act like them as if they’re savages, even though they’re skinning animals and threatening to murder and rape people. But one of them, Raphael, had a previous encounter with a Predator and wanted Naru’s help in learning how to defeat it. Apparently this encounter took place in a series of comic books back in the 90s, but it would be nice to have learned more about it and how much Raphael knew about the alien before encountering the Comache tribe about it. And I can’t forget about Sarii, who is as much of an important character than any of the humans. This dog is super loyal to Naru, helping her fight against foes or distracting threats so she can get an upper hand on them. I thought Sarii was a great asset to PREY and added a lot to Naru’s development and evolution.
If I did have any major issues with PREY, it’s some of the dialogue. Now, I watched PREY with the Comache Dub, which is the way Trachtenberg wants audiences to watch the movie. It’s pretty much the native language with English subtitles, which I’m happy for considering many complaints were about how the actors spoke way too modern for a period movie. Even so, the translations share the same problem at times, with characters talking to each other as if they would in 2022 than they probably would in 1719. It kind of threw me off at times, but it doesn’t hurt the film a whole lot. It’s just something to be mindful of if Trachtenberg attempts another Predator period film down the line.
Trachtenberg’s direction and Jeff Cutter’s cinematography give PREY a nice visual boost, giving the film a beautiful and atmospheric look that’s been kind of missing in several of the PREDATOR films. While some of the CGI is a bit wonky at times, especially when it involves animals encountering other actors or the Predator itself, Trachtenberg does his best to shoot these moments in a way that it doesn’t totally bring the film down. The Predator effects are well handled though, with Trachtenberg using the antagonist in a similar way that the first PREDATOR did. The alien is invisible or cloaked for much of the film, creating a level of tension and suspense this series has surely needed for a while. In fact, a lot of the hunting scenes do well in keeping one’s interest, making you look around the screen to see if you can catch the Predator lurking in the background. The action scenes are also handled well, making the Predator look like a total badass as he overpowers many of its victims until Naru figures out its weaknesses. Trachtenberg seems all in with this franchise going forward, so I’m hoping he continues making more sequels/prequels because it’s a great film visually for the most part.
All the actors are very good, considering some of the dialogue doesn’t really fit the time period PREY is supposed to take place in. The two standouts are Dakota Beavers as Taabe, surprising me how good he is considering he was working at a TJ Maxx before getting the role. I think he’s one to look out for in the future because he brought a likability and cool factor to Taabe. And Amber Midthunder, probably best known for her role in the underappreciated show Legion, is amazing as Naru. She carries the film from beginning to end, fleshing out a heroine that we can all root for. She’s so expressive in her face and tells a lot about her story through her body language. Midthunder’s acting makes her character earn her place as a dangerous opponent for the Predator, carrying a quiet strength that makes me hope to see more of in future projects.
THE FINAL HOWL
While PREY isn’t the best PREDATOR film like some have claimed, the film is still in the Top 3 within the franchise, proving that this series and its main character still have a lot of life in them. Amber Midthunder carries the film with a strong performance as Naru, proving to be a formidable force due to a believable story arc and convincing facial expressions and body language to convey an intelligent threat the Predator didn’t see coming. The narrative works since it goes “back to basics” in terms of what makes this series work - the joy of the hunt and developed characters we can root for. Dan Trachtenberg adds another well-crafted sequel to his resume - bringing atmosphere, tension and suspense that has been missing from the last few installments. Yes, some of the CGI is a bit dodgy at times. And I wish the dialogue was more of its period rather than making characters sound like they’re cosplaying as Comache hunters in 2022. Speaking of, the Comache Dub is the way to go with PREY. I couldn’t imagine how this would play out in English considering some of the dialogue. But overall, a return-to-form for a franchise that needed a win badly for so long now.
(8 out of 10)