Given the choice to watch the new installment in the Predator franchise titled Prey in either English or the native Comanche dub, I choose original native language every time. It’s the experience that counts not whether you have to read the words to become engrossed in the narrative. For a straight to streaming prequel in a long-standing franchise, having that option speaks highly of inclusion of different ethnicities to see themselves represented on screen from writer director Dan Trachtenberg in just his second feature length film. His first being 10 Cloverfield Lane, another science fiction-based franchise that could use a breath of fresh air added it its ranks. Prey succeeds at being a reinvigorating installment to Predator while serving as a launch pad for the franchise. Having knowledge of or seeing past films is not necessary – there may be an easter egg or two, but Prey is no pre-requisite to dive into familiar waters.
Just as Creed brought in a new audience from being a spin-off of the Rocky franchise, Prey is made in the same vein. Though not a spin-off, much of the same can be expected. As the tag reads “we hunt to live, they live to hunt” and that’s the entirety of the premise in a nutshell. Trachtenberg’s approach in its simplicity is effectively for telling a harrowing tale of survival. No ulterior motive, just survive by any means necessary.
In 1719, a trained healer and highly skilled warrior Naru (Amber Midthunder) witnesses a sequence of strange occurrences while out hunting and proving herself to other skeptical tribesmen including her bother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). One after the other, apex predators are killed by an invisible being – first a rattlesnake, then a wolf and finally a grizzly bear. Almost like a rite of passage for the Predator (Dane DiLiegro) taking out the opposition, one challenge at a time, stalking its prey and waiting for the opportunity to strike with its advanced weaponry.
Coming in at 100 minutes, director Dan Tranchtenberg keeps Prey tightly wound andmoving nonstop, but at an even pace to let the series of events unfold organically. Without a moment to breath, tension is consistently built from the ground up as a constant reminder of the unforeseen danger lurking in the shadows. At the perfect moment, the adrenaline will kick in, hitting its climax during the action sequences designed to capture the fear of facing an unknown enemy. With each close encounter Naru adapts quickly to outsmart the Predator at its own game.
Leading the charge into battle with a blood curdling war cry is Amber Midthunder who brings a ferocity and fearlessness to Naru in her path of protecting her tribe. Without her courage and resourcefulness in the face of an unnatural species, the tribe may not survive. Beside Naru, accompanying her everywhere is the goodest girl Sarii who is the backbone to Naru’s heart and soul of Prey. Animal lovers can rest assured, no serious harm comes to Sarii though, other defenseless animals may not come out on the other side due to the natural ecosystem.
A few months back when Robert Eggers The Northman released in theaters, one of the triumphs out of the many was the commitment to using only natural lighting. For the period that Norse epic took place in, it made total sense leaning into the authenticity. Trachtenberg follows suit with his film, having the only light sources come from fire and daylight. Cinematographer Jeff Cutter uses the darkness to his and the films advantage, framing shots to build the anticipation of the next attack from the futuristic foe. Once the clicking sounds are heard, Sarah Schanhner’s elevated score creates a claustrophobic atmosphere despite being in an open field.
All of the technical elements fit snugly together like puzzle pieces. When the script begins to unwind and introduce a new threat to the tribe and the Predator, the other elements like the striking visual effects and themes steady the ship, picking up the slack. The design, construction and visuals of the Predator stands out, sticking with the time but is still dangerous among human and beast. It’s quick and deadly but assuming, underestimating Naru is the Predator’s biggest mistake – not seeing her as threat the same way it sees a rabbit after hunting the wolf.
Dan Trachtenberg skins the film down like how his Native American tribesmen would do to a buffalo and use every inch of it for beneficial gain. At its bare bones, Prey shines the brightest, intimate with a sense of spectacle and a gorgeous backdrop, doing what certain franchises fail to do when creating a spin-off or a soft reboot. With Prey, the story written by Trachtenberg and Patrick Aison comes first before the Predator. Naru is developed well enough to relate to in some fashion – whether its finding courage within yourself or proving others wrong who may doubt you.
For what it accomplishes, thematically and visually, Prey will sure carve out some attention in a weekend full of new releases. Helping the case, Trachtenberg makes a great film, engrossing in story and character and full of representation and inclusivity. Before you know it, an hour and 40 minutes of violent carnage passes by and Naru is headed back to the tribe with a sense of accomplishment on her face and trotting behind her is Sarii. Midthunder gives a fascinating and grounded performance among the talent of her co-stars – she’s a talent that deserves to be watched going forward. Prey in no way reinvents the wheel, it can be seen as just a generic sci-fi film that’s another entry into the genre but its more than that – It’s one of the better entries in the franchise that needed the fresh coat of paint and Trachtenberg, delivers on the promise of what he sets out to accomplish.
Screenplay By: Patrick Aison
Story By: Patrick Aison & Dan Trachtenberg
Directed By: Dan Trachtenberg
Music By: Sarah Schachner
Cinematography: Jeff Cutter
Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Michelle Thrush, Stormee Kipp, Julian Black Antelope, Bennett Taylor, Dane DiLiegro
Where to Watch: Hulu
Release Date: August 5, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Based On: Characters by Jim & John Thomas