Prey was a well-made and enjoyable sequel/prequel that executed a lot of the familiar elements, carved out its own identity within the Comanche community, and even dropped some easter eggs to connect the dots to its cinematic family members.
In the early 1700s, an alien arrives in the Americas to do some sport-hunting and ends up squaring off with a young Comanche warrior.
This isn’t an “origin story of the Predator” as the IMDB storyline suggests. If you want to label it an origin story put that distinction where it belongs, on the shoulders of Naru (played by Amber Midthunder). It is her story after all and there isn’t much of any expansion on the existing mythos of the Yautja (Predator) species. There are, however, some cool Easter Egg moments for the fans of the franchise, which I appreciated.
Naur is a skilled tracker and fighter, but she fails the test that would elevate her to a member of the tribe’s hunting party, where her brother serves as leader. This is really the story of a young woman who wants to go beyond the limits of the gender roles assigned by her tribe and the appearance of a mysterious, extra-terrestrial threat is the catalyst to make that happen.
In only his time directing a feature, Dan Trachtenberg hones in on something I didn’t connect the dots on until after I watched. He helped develop the story with screenwriter Patrick Aison, and they honed in on the important parallels between the warrior cultures of both the Predator and the Comanche. That actually gives Naru more in common with the hunter than she may think as both of them are participating in cultural rites of passage. Much of that backstory is contained within the frames of other installments in the film franchise, but it tells me that Trachtenberg and 20th Century Studies approached the existing material with respect and that shows up on the screen.
You can see more of that respect in the casting of mostly native actors to play the Comanche roles. One of my biggest hurdles in getting excited for this movie before its release was seeing this tribe speaking English when the movie is set around 300 years ago. Honestly, it was a big issue for me starting off the film too because it came across as inauthentic. I understand why it was made that way, but I learned about the Comanche language dub version and switched to that about five minutes in and it was a great decision. Much of the film is specific to that heritage and having them communicate in their own language changes the way you see them.
That approach is great for the Comanche nation but leaves the Predator character with little foundation. Sure, we know what he is already but of all the characters, in all the films, this one seemed to have the least personality of the bunch. I liked the slimmer, less-armored look of the Ancient Elder-style Yautja and the athleticism that went along with it but the face design leaves him looking a bit on the dumber side. Aison and Trachtenberg also did a nice job of showing how this particular Predator treats the hunt itself and that factors into the story more and more down the line, but I always want to learn more about the species and we really get none of that. The biggest piece of the explanation comes during the end credits.
Amber Midthunder is a strong lead here and her character foundation is well thought out, especially in regard to some of the other leads we’ve seen in these films. Naru is crafty, spending a lot of time practicing skills that her male counterparts don’t value. It’s that resourcefulness, resilience, and work ethic coupled with being overlooked for her gender that put her in a position where she can do the thing that nobody around her can.
Besides the Predator, the only other character of meaningful substance is Naru’s brother Taabe, played by Dakota Beavers. As I mentioned earlier, he is head of the hunting party but he too is confined by the rules that govern the tribe and can’t prop his sister up even though he knows the value that she has. Having many sisters myself, I love that things boil down to the two of them working together.
One of the fundamental elements that have tied the best entries in the series together is the use of jungle settings and Jeff Cutter did some great work with the cinematography for this one. The music by Sarah Schachner is excellent too and has a strong focus on drums and some kind of throaty woodwind instrument that jives with the tribal elements.
Being a fan of the alien side of the equation, I was disappointed in the lack of extrapolation there and I think this has to be one of, if not, the dumbest Predators we have seen on screen. Like, in the clutch, he doesn’t understand or remember how his own super advanced technology works? Combine that with him being pretty arrogant and you have a recipe for an upset.
That said, I still wound up enjoying the film plenty and much more than I thought I would. I just didn’t love it the way, it seems, a lot of people did.
Recommendation: Fans of the Predator film franchise should find this a refreshing return to the key elements they like, and new fans should see it for a more timely adaptation of a familiar idea.
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