Review: Bloody and Action-Packed Prey Finds a Captivating Prequel Story in a Familiar Franchise

The idea behind the Predator prequel is so simple and so perfect, I’m actually genuinely glad that someone took the time to get it right before they tried filming it. The thing we have not known since the first Predator film is whether the alien race that apparently travels the universe looking for the perfect warrior to hunt, fight, kill and turn into a grotesque trophy has been to earth before the events of 1987’s Predator. There are heavy indicators in Prey that the story that’s unfolding before us (set 300 years ago, on the Great Plains) is of the first member of this species to make its way to our planet. And so the question becomes: Does the title refer to the unknowing humans who must do battle against the frequently invisible alien warrior? Or does it refer to the Predator being hunted by fearless members of the Comanche Nation? Whichever you decide it is, Prey is a damn-near perfect action-thriller-horror-science-fiction combination that not only honors the original premise of the series, but also the traditions and survival instincts of the indigenous people depicted in the film.

By all accounts, director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), working from a screenplay by Patrick Aison, went above and beyond to accurately portray the Comanche of the period. As a result, the film not only feels authentic but it also makes it possible to believe that the warriors of the tribe would journey into the surrounding forest in search of whatever it was that was disturbing the natural order of things. Amber Midthunder (The Ice Road) plays Naru, a skilled female warrior who, as you might expect, is a bit of an anomaly in her culture. She’s on the verge of taking part in a ceremony to seal her warrior status, one that involves leaving her home and going into the woods to hunt something that is also hunting her. Normally, if the warrior survives and passes this final test, they bring home a mountain lion or a bear, but just as Naru, her brother and other warriors are about to leave to begin the test, an alien craft lands nearby, and a different kind of hunt is on.

We see the Predator (played by Dane DiLiegro) take out some of the deadliest animals in the territory, but when it sets its sights on the humans it sees moving stealthily through the trees with weapons, it realizes it has found the best warriors this planet has to offer. Although I’m not sure the Comanche ever put it together that this creature they are hunting came from outer space, they grow to understand that it is sophisticated, has advanced weapons, and can become invisible. But they also soon discover that it can be hurt and bleed; and if it can bleed, it can be killed, making this a far more fairly matched battle than you might imagine.

True to form, Prey is exceedingly violent (the usual trophy that the Predator takes is the skull and spine of its conquests), but the bloodshed goes in both directions, and it’s a complete blast watching a Predator film that feels fierce and unpredictable. We learn that having laser-sighted weapons doesn’t mean you’re going to win a conflict. Intelligence and strategy play a huge part in the fight. For example, Naru figures out that the creature can see their heat signature, and she has various methods to appear invisible to the Predator that include everything from mud to a natural medicine that cools the blood to such a degree that you disappear or seem dead to the beast.

The film features a cast composed almost entirely of Native and First Nation actors, and while their acting skills may vary, this type of representation in a genre film is extraordinary and makes a world of difference in explaining and carrying it out. There isn’t a wasted moment in a film that uses dialogue sparingly. Midthunder is an absolute powerhouse, small in stature, but focused on staying alive, observing her prey, and protecting her tribe. When the human warriors come across a group of French explorers, it changes the tone of the movie to such a degree that we begin to crave the French characters’ demise as quickly as possible so we can get back to Naru’s primary story. Prey is a small miracle of an accomplishment, and it made me wonder if there could be more stories of Predators visiting Earth at various points in history before the events of the original film. As long as they are handled like this movie, I’m digging the concept.

The film begins streaming on Hulu Friday.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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