The original McTiernon film is such a blast, one that has never been equaled by a sequel (though the 2010 entry Predators came close in many ways). Filled to the brim with ironic machismo, grating characters with definite inner life, and that post-Vietnam War sensation of “we went into this jungle cocksure and filled with piss and vinegar only to be kicked in the ass and sent packing,” the Arnold vehicle has remained a staple for film fans for thirty-five years now. Director Dan Trachtenberg’s attempt at a prequel is a fascinating one, feeling fresh and derivative all at once while delivering a highly-entertaining piece of pop culture viscera.
Prey follows the Comanche warrior Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young woman that longs to join her tribe’s hunters but is denied by all around her. She gets to tag along sometimes due to the medical knowledge she’s gotten from her mother, but that’s about all the men seem interested in. When Naru and her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers), stay behind to hunt down a mountain lion that has attacked a tribesman, she discovers a greater threat in the wildlands than any other the tribe has faced. Armed with only her father’s ax and a bow, she begins hunting this new threat only to discover it is she that will have to survive…a Predator.
We’ve seen that there are so many ways to really screw up a Predator movie. It’s been done time and again, never able to achieve the thoughtful fun of the original film. Trachtenberg has finally achieved the impossible and made a worthy entry into the franchise, filled with savagery and brutality while allowing Amber Midthunder to turn in a star-making performance. Prey was chucked onto Hulu by Disney in order to keep it from going to any other streaming service (it would have spent time on HBO Max if it had gone through a theatrical run for reasons) and it’s a crying shame, as the gorgeous visual effects and sound design would have been even more thrilling on the big screen. The creative team came together to craft something worth watching, and I hope it does as well on streaming as it could have in a theatrical run.
Prey is groundbreaking for a lot of reasons, but its all-Native-American cast is a big one. There aren’t a lot of roles being given to native actors, but Trachtenberg made a point to cast accordingly and he’s collected a great group of performers. The film was released in English, but there is a Comanche audio track available and I highly recommend it. I recognize that shooting it that way would make it highly uncommercial for American audiences (who seem to only widely accept a film in anything but English if it’s about Jesus), but there’s a layer added by allowing the performers to embrace the heritage they are portraying onscreen.
It isn’t just groundbreaking for the cast. The big guy gets some new looks himself, with a set of new weapons and a facial redesign that is absolutely gnarly. Dane DiLiegro steps into the suit this time, a former basketball player turned actor that gives a great physicality to his subject. While I enjoy the original design, there’s a lot about it that screams “guy in a suit” and not “fear this alien menace.” Prey delivers a lean, mean hunter for its protagonist to face off with and the entire new look and feel of the Predator works for me.
Most know what they’re getting when they come to a movie in this franchise, so it’s pleasantly surprising to see something so grounded in tension again. Trachtenberg spends a lot of the runtime building to his big moments, allowing for their grisly events to play out only after he’s wrung every ounce of tension from them prior. This is a tight, taut little movie that is going to go down as one of the best action movies in recent memory. While I maintain that it’s a shame we didn’t get to see this on the big screen I think it’s wonderful that you can all watch it right now. I mean it, go now.
Prey is currently streaming on Hulu.