Let’s start this “Prey” review with a searing take: nearly every movie in the “Predator” franchise is actually good. “Predator” is obviously a classic. “Predator 2” is a new take on the concept, and Danny Glover should have received all the awards in the world for his performance in this film. “Alien vs. Predator” is incredibly gothic and features some of the best action sequences the genre has ever seen. “AVP: Requiem” contains some good stuff, but unfortunately it’s too dark for us to see. If a good Samaritan gets his hands on the original print and colors it correctly, we might just be able to see its shine. The cast of “Predators” alone makes this a great entry. The action is like the icing on the cake. Let’s not talk about “The Predator” (so, the “almost”). And now there’s “Prey,” which is so great it gives the original a run for its money.
Directed and co-written by Dan Trachtenberg, with co-screenwriter Patrick Aison, “Prey” is set in September 1719 on the Northern Great Plains. It follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a member of a Comanche tribe who aspires to become a hunter. But, since she is a girl, she is expected to cook and clean hides like the rest of the women in their society do. One day, a member of their tribe goes missing, and she accompanies her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers), and his rescue team, only to realize that there’s something anomalous wandering the forest. It’s true! A Predator (Dane DiLiegro) has landed, and it’s meticulously searching the territory to find out who’s at the top of the food chain. When Naru insists on proving her desire to be a hunter, she unwittingly sets out to find the Predator. However, the closer she gets to it, the more she realizes that she’s clearly bitten off more than she can chew.
Dan Trachtenberg and Patrick Aison understand the simple magic of staging and winning, both in terms of story and action. Naru’s entire journey is synonymous with a coming-of-age movie. It happens to be set in 1719 and contains a Predator. She is determined, observant and talented. But as Taabe’s ego gets in the way, she never manages to complete the task that will allow her to prove to her tribe that she is the best of the best. It’s the assembly. The reward for this is Taabe’s realization that he has been a thorn in Naru’s path to fame and that he must step down so Naru can fulfill his destiny. On a small scale, Naru uses the bait and kill method to maim the lion. Once Taabe tells her it’s a successful method, she uses it again to confront the Predator. Heck, even the framing and lighting of these two scenes are similar to indicate what’s echoing and how far Naru has come.
There aren’t a lot of twists because there’s not much to hide once you know it’s a “Predator” movie. So, Trachtenberg uses the time that could have been wasted setting up a mysterious angle to set up some satisfying action scenes. And the subversions reside in these montages. For example, we all know that mud cools the body and prevents the Predator from locating its prey through its thermal vision. That’s why when Naru falls into a mud pit, we think it’s a reference to the first movie, and that’s where Naru will first notice the Predator and figure out his whole shtick. But nothing like that happens, and it feels like a throwaway scene. In reality, this is not the case. It’s the build-up to the final altercation with the Predator, and the coolant is actually rooted in Naru’s medical skills instead of some stupid straight-up callback. The only thing better than this setup and gain is how Naru uses the Predator’s helmet and projectile weapon on it.
Technically, “Prey” is masterful. Trachtenberg, along with cinematographer Jeff Cutter, production designer Kara Lindstrom, supervising art director Kendelle Elliott, and the departments of sound design, special effects, visual effects, costume design, makeup and place management, bring a sense of tangibility that becomes absent from modern tentpole films. They all feel like they’re happening in a vacuum in a parking lot. Each “Predator” movie (escape the 2018 one) has a distinct sense of place. Just like “Prey”. Once you are in the forest, you feel transported to these woods. You can hear anything very slightly floating. This automatically forces you to move closer to the screen and scan it to see if you can notice the Predator before Naru, putting you in his shoes. The editing by Claudia Castello and Angela M. Catanzaro is sublime in the calmer scenes as well as in the action sets. Sarah Schachner is on the border between being lyrical and limiting herself to the weak rhythms of percussion instruments. Everything is so good, so atmospheric and so engaging.
This brings us to performance. Let’s drop Amber Midthunder. Right? She truly deserves all the applause in the world for directing this film with such confidence and poise. It is undoubtedly a very physically demanding role. And though her stunt double (Tammy Nera) had to try a lot of hard work during the action scenes, she seems to be pulling her weight through claustrophobia-inducing mud, dark, creepy forests, and mountainous trails. The Best Supporting Actor award goes to Dane DiLiegro as the Predator. It’s not necessarily a complex character. But it’s malicious as hell. It’s something DiLiegro aptly conveys with his physique, the way he awaits his victims, and the way he rejoices after a murder. Dakota Beavers is a strong and important part of this film, and her family relationship with Amber is palpable. Stormee Kipp, Bennett Taylor, Tymon Carter, and Corvin Mack do a great job of getting killed by the Predator. In fact, every stuntman killed by the Predator deserves a shoutout.
In conclusion, “Prey” tied for the top spot with “Predator” as the best “Predator” movie and is definitely one of the best movies of the year. It is one of the best films to honor the action, horror, and sci-fi genres. And it’s really a shame that we watch this on our small screens. I want to avoid getting into a rant about the state of movie distribution after the Disney takeover. But it will give this positive review a negative tinge. So let’s not go. Instead, here’s what I’m going to say. Round up your friends, family, extended family, and everyone who watched “Predator.” Rent a projector and a good sound system. Maybe cook snacks or order them. Emulate the theatrical experience because that’s how this humdinger of a movie is meant to be consumed. If that’s too much work, get a pair of noise canceling headphones, grab Dan Trachtenberg’s hand, and get lost in the hunt.
Learn more: ‘Prey’ Ending Explained – What’s the Predator’s Agenda? Did Naru manage to defeat the predator?