Prey: Now that's how to do a prequel
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
4 out of 5
I'm old enough to have seen John McTiernan's 1987 film Predator (yes the one with Arnie!) which introduced us to a relentless alien character hunting his prey and inspiring a bunch of sequels and prequels that never matched the original film's edge-of-the-seat tension.
Made for and streaming now on Hulu and also on Disney+, comes director Dan Trachtenberg's "Prey". Known for tense thrillers such as 10 Cloverfield Lane and action series such as The Boys together with directing a couple of episodes of Black Mirror, he has the qualifications to tell this new prequel tale set in the Northern Great Plains of North America. The title has a double meaning - just who is the Prey?
Featuring an almost exclusively Native American cast led by Amber Midthunder and Dakota Beavers, Prey is a thrilling journey in which Naru (Midthunder) and her beloved dog (offering a truly incredible canine performance) cut their way through the plains, steadily realizing what they’re up against. The Predator, now a decades-old cinematic star, appears in his usual guise, from lightly shimmering see-through camouflage to his truly terrifying full-color, weapons-laden, definitely alien visage. (Does this Predator kill? Oh, boy, does he). “Prey” looks great, and would likely look even better on the big screen. After the disappointment of Shane Black’s 2018 “The Predator,” Prey”ably proves how much more life there is in this franchise, sequel or prequel, big screen or small.
Despite a slower start — though there are pleasures to be found in getting to know Naru and the rest of the cast — once “Prey” kicks into high gear, it does not let up. Major set pieces abound, including a heart-stopping sequence in which Naru finally witnesses the Predator in all his horrifying glory (the alien warrior takes on a massive, very angry bear, to stunning results) to one in which Naru must use her wits to pull herself out of quicksand. Jeff Cutter’s cinematography, including a number of eye-popping overhead shots, moves between the graceful (a scene in which we see the trappers’ handiwork with a herd of buffalo is absolutely chilling) and the suspenseful (a last-act battle set in the trappers’ camp is made even more freaky by the use of smoke and fog).
The key to “Prey” is screenwriter Patrick Aison’s smart interpretation of its table-turning title: this one is about the Predator as much as it is about his seeming prey, someone used to being counted out who actually offers the biggest danger to the alien baddie. When Naru realizes that the Predator doesn’t view her as a threat — either because she’s a woman or because he typically sees her when she’s weapon-less — she uses that insight to her advantage.
How can even the most skilled Comanche warriors battle a massive alien being with a full arsenal of advanced technology? Now that’s how you orient a prequel. How Trachtenberg, Aison, and Midthunder interrogate that very question is a thrill, offering the most unexpected of movie treats: a once-stalled franchise that suddenly seems bursting with delights — and, yes, plenty of blood spatter.