Prey, the newest film in the Predator universe, snuck up on us like a…well, you know. It landed on Hulu streaming on August 5th. After watching it, this may have been the best marketing strategy the film could have used. There was a trailer, but it doesn’t seem like it debuted that long ago, and it certainly didn’t flood the marketing space. There hasn’t been a merchandising campaign released ahead of the movie as some popular franchises do either. But again, maybe this plan is one that other franchises should learn from.
Predator is a robust franchise with a vast array of films, comics, games, and toys. Unfortunately, many of those tentpole films aren’t well regarded by fans. The Predator movies always promise to deliver the next best entry to a highly sought-after franchise but repeatedly fall short. Predator’s fandom and expectations are slightly different than your standard, though, as they always seem ready for the next installment anyway. Prey is a new type of Predator movie, but is it the one we need?
Prey begins in 1719 on the Great Plains in America. Our hero, Naru, is a young Comanche girl who wants to break the mold and become a hunter. This desire is partially fueled by the success and example set by her older brother Taabe, arguably the greatest warrior in their tribe. Naru explains that her motivation is to prove to everyone that she can be a hunter. To earn her rite as a warrior, Naru must engage in her Kuhtaamia and “hunt something that hunts you.” Despite her efforts, Naru can’t quite succeed, then a hunter like no other arrives in the Plains. On the Predator’s side, he lands on Earth and begins his process of discovering who or what the most significant challenge to him is there.
The movie is not what you’d expect from a Predator film and doesn’t feel like it fits the mold, at least for the entire beginning. Instead, we get a captivating story in an under-properly represented yet fascinating historical period. There is also a lot of tension and thrilling moments not related to the Predator directly but rather the natural world that Naru exists in. During this time, I was so caught up in Naru’s tribe, customs, and tribulations that I forgot I was watching a science fiction movie.
The movie is visually beautiful. The costumes, the landscape, and the cinematography are genuinely something to ogle. The movie isn’t even dark like many other sci-fi/horror films and mostly takes place out in the open during the day. This may seem like an odd setting for a hulking murder alien to wander around in because it is. But it works. The Predator in this movie is also something to behold with a newly developed look that’s just different enough from the Predators we know.
The good things about this movie begin with the very concept of a more primitive Predator visiting earth in a less technologically advanced time. Here the humans have guns, but they shoot one ball at a time and must be painstakingly loaded by hand. Meanwhile, the Predator has a somewhat different bag of tricks than we’ve grown accustomed to, alongside a few that are familiar. It’s not clear if this is the first time Predators have ever come to earth, but it sure seems like it is for this particular one. A lot of time is spent showing the Predator observing and experimenting to gain an understanding of our world which is a unique addition to the universe’s canon.
The movie is thrilling and action-packed. There are times when there is discussion, but it is usually related to hunting or strategy. Dane DiLiegro as the Predator does not disappoint, and neither does Amber Midthunder as Naru. While violence and a decent death count are expected, both characters have high-octane fight scenes that include exhilarating executions. As mentioned before, even scenes with native predators will have your eyes glued to the screen as it’s not something we see often or done this well. While the Predator is slowly revealed exactly how you want it to be(Jaws fans), Naru is thrust right into action and peril to keep up the pace.
While I enjoyed the movie, two things stuck with me that took away from the film. First and mainly is animal violence. This is necessary and part of the unique setting and framing of the movie as it shows the predator learning the land. In a way, it also is part of the people of that time that hunted and prepared their own food. It is jarring, though, and if you don’t want to see furry animals brutally torn apart, then be prepared to close your eyes or skip to about the halfway mark of the film.
I also didn’t enjoy the Predator being sufficiently challenged by a somewhat small human armed with weapons based on strength and speed. This complaint is more from a fandom and franchise standpoint than judging the film as a standalone story. In the film, Naru is not yet a hunter; she’s a hunter in training to prove herself. Yes, she gets some assistance from other humans, but essentially she takes on a massive, well-practiced killing machine armed with high-tech weapons. While it displayed Naru’s abilities, it made me believe this Predator was a bit careless or maybe not quite as experienced as others we’ve seen.
There are plenty of nods to other Predator films in Prey. They seem to say, “Hey, we’re doing our own thing here, but we wouldn’t be here without these other movies…oh, and by the way, we love those movies”. Some of these are humorous, while others just make all the pieces of the larger story fit together just a little better. This movie’s entry is unique as, for now, it’s the earliest appearance of a Predator in history. Therefore things can be different, but they have to eventually fit within the canon in a way that makes sense.
While Prey may not have paraded into town in three giant spaceships, it nonetheless has something special to offer. Is it the best Predator movie? Probably not because the first one has a style of its own that made the franchise the phenomena it has become, and Prey doesn’t follow that style. No, Prey is something new and may be exactly the fresh take the franchise needs. Let’s be honest; it’s pretty hard to replicate Arnold. I give Prey 4 out of 5 trophy skulls and recommend it for fans of creature features and brutal historical action.