Prey (2022) Review

Just when I thought the Predator series was over for good, thanks to the god-awful abomination of Shane Black’s The Predator four years ago, the Disney-owned Fox studio refused to give up after all. So, in order to revive the franchise, they made a smart decision with the help of Dan Trachtenberg of 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane fame by going back to basics.

Here, Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison (TV’s Wayward Pines, Treadstone) opted for the prequel route in Prey instead of moving forward from whatever The Predator has last left off. The back-to-basics part that I mentioned earlier refers to the story, which focuses more on the survival and thrills of the hunt rather than trying to cram more possible backstories and mythologies. It’s a simple premise that echoes the first Predator thirty-five years ago, where instead of a group of soldiers battling for survival against a technologically-advanced Predator, Prey follows a young Comanche woman Naru (Amber Midthunder) as she tries to prove her worth by completing a ritual known as kühtaamia. The kühtaamia in question requires her to participate in a big hunt to kill a dangerous beast.

One night, her opportunity finally arrives when a mountain lion injures one of her tribespeople. Her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) subsequently leads the hunt to track down the mountain lion and kill it. Naru decided to tag along, only to find out that the mountain lion isn’t the real threat in the jungle but something more dangerous in the form of a new predatory creature.

A scene from "Prey" (2022)

Prey runs around 100 minutes — a pace that is lean enough, where Trachtenberg doesn’t waste much time setting up the story. He builds his character — which in this case, Midthunder’s Naru — efficiently from the get-go without resulting in expository situations as we learn how the strong-willed Naru proves to her otherwise male-dominated warrior tribe that she can be as worthy as them. Of course, it also helps that Amber Midthunder delivers an engaging lead performance as Naru.

Prey also benefits from better-than-expected production values for a movie that heads straight for the streaming services. Jeff Cutter’s naturalistic cinematography is visually gorgeous no matter day or night, where the majority of the movie was shot in the Stoney Nakoda Nation lands and some of them in and around Elbow River and Moose Mountain in Canada. Trachtenberg’s virtuoso and dynamic camerawork deserves equal mention as well, where the action sequences evoke a sense of palpable tension and none of the jittery-cam or frenetic-editing nonsense seen in The Predator.

Sure, not every action scene works well as expected, namely the one where the Predator faces a giant bear in mano-a-mano style. Some of the obvious CGI — including the bear — effects tend to dilute the otherwise visceral moments and so does the frequent use of CG blood. But I still enjoy the movie, especially the way Trachtenberg stages every action beat with enough verve and style. This is particularly evident during the second half of the movie right down to the climactic third act, where Naru eventually faces the Predator all by herself.

The Predator in "Prey" (2022)

Back to the story, I love how Trachtenberg chooses to keep the story as self-contained as possible. But at the same time, he does so while maintaining certain bits and pieces of worldbuilding and callbacks, where the former includes the origin of the flintlock pistol first seen in 1990’s sadly underrated Predator 2. The latter, in the meantime, is a nice touch that will definitely satisfy fans of the first Predator.

There’s one thing I was initially worried about Prey. As in wouldn’t it be unfair for the Predator with all the technology and advanced weaponry that it has in its possession chooses to fight against the Comanche tribe, where the latter is only equipped with primitive weapons? Save for the iconic tri-beam laser sight, I’m glad Trachtenberg depicts the Predator’s way of hunting skills by not using the kind of explosive weapons seen in the first movie. Except for the later scenes, where the Predator deals with a group of gun-toting French hunters.

Another thing worth mentioning here is how Naru chooses to defeat the otherwise unstoppable Predator by not focusing entirely on the strength. The kind of one-on-one battle that relies more on adapting and improvising with different tactics than mere brute force. Finally, the music score from Sarah Schachner, where I’m surprised she doesn’t rely heavily on recreating Alan Silvestri’s iconic theme like I thought she would. Instead, she breathes a new life by making it her own with her pulse-pounding score that blends well with the look and feel of the period-set movie.

Prey is currently streaming on Hulu and Disney+.

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