Prey Review: Predator returns to survival horror with a strong story
The Predator franchise has mainly stayed afloat through the popularity of its titular alien hunter and the often-brutal kills they deliver, but director Dan Trachtenberg brings a new vision and new blood for the franchise with Prey.
Prey’s early 1700s North American Great Plains setting immediately gives this entry a much different feel within the franchise and is absolutely breathtaking. Not since the 2010 entry Predators has a Predator film had such a unique and engaging environment to play around in. The vast open plains and thick forests are beautifully captured by Jeff Cutter’s stunning cinematography and help in creating suspenseful and thrilling action sequences. It’s a setting that even allows for some great moments of grounded horror as there are environmental dangers in form of dangerous animals and swamp bogs that make for some tense fights for survival. With the film also being set back hundreds of years before any of the previous Predator films, there’s also a more intriguing Predator and warrior group for it to fight against.
Rather than have a group of gun-toting soldiers fight against the Predator like every other film, the film features a group of Comanche warriors, mainly a woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder), who seeks to break her tribe’s gender roles. Native American representation in film is incredibly scarce or often damaging, especially in mainstream film, so it’s incredibly impactful that Prey not only focuses on the Comanches, but also characterizes them better. The film avoids generic savage stereotypes to show the Comanche as more humanistic and community driven.
They’re shown much more personally than most other films and it’s actually nice how the film sees them fight against past depictions through the Predator’s savagery. Plus, knowing that there’s a version, possibly out by the writing of this review, that features complete dubbing in Comanche language not only allows for a more immersive viewing experience, but also shows the real care that went into depicting Comanche culture. By having their hunting practices and hierarchy get special focus in the film’s narrative, there’s a deeper connection established with Naru’s desires to break from tradition and become a warrior.
The film’s framework around Naru trying to break from her tribe’s roles of women being medicinal gatherers and men being the mighty hunters is perfect for a Predator story. The whole idea of the Kuhtaamia, a rite of passage that sees a hunter successfully hunt an animal that’s hunting them, is incredibly fitting for Naru and the tribe becoming the targets of the Predator as it creates more personal stakes for the fighting past just survival. Naru’s arc in the film is probably one of the strongest stories of the entire franchise with deeply personal and empowering it is to see her become stronger and smarter in her fight against the Predator. It’s also great how both her medicinal and hunting skill play a prominent role in her character making her a more capable warrior. Midthunder’s performance is absolutely immaculate and fierce as she drives all of Naru’s desires to fight and makes her story much more emotional. Her performance is easily one of the most notable breakouts of the year and her dynamic with Dakota Beavers, who plays Naru’s brother Taabe, creates this great sibling connection that acts as a strong emotional thread in her storyline.
Even better is that the more primitive Predator, played by Dane DiLiegro, we get to see looks amazing and expands on lore in some cool ways. Because this Predator is hundreds of years older than the ones we see in future films, Trachtenberg takes the opportunity to showcase some older versions of tech Predators would become known for. The new shoulder-mounted cannon is used excellently throughout the film for some awesome-looking action and plays a very fun role in Naru turning the tables on the Predator. The new skull mask design looks intense and creepy, and we even get a glimpse into how the Predators make their skull trophies. Plus, there are plenty of fun goodies that this Predator uses in battle to take down vicious animals and people it defines as threats that fans will enjoy and that really take the franchise back to its survival horror roots.
Sure, Prey will easily be a big hit with fans for the incredible gruesome kills the Predator delivers and the incredible action sequences that are concocted. As said before, the setting works excellently in creating these thrilling chase sequences and fights for survival that usually comes with some gory kills, especially some brutal decapitations. There’s even a death that actually stings because of the emotional attachment you grow for the character, which is a nice change of pace for all the bland characters we’ve gotten in past films. Plus, the creativity in the weaponry and fighting will constantly wow viewers and make for some jaw-dropping intensity.
However, it’s the return to a more horror-driven survivalist mentality that makes Prey a welcomed return to form for the franchise as watching Naru study the Predator to ultimately turn the tables is immensely engaging and so much fun. It’s a true cat and mouse game right from their first encounter and the patience the film shows in letting Predator be unleashed makes their presence so intriguing throughout. Trachtenberg’s more methodical and suspenseful vision for Prey is exactly what this franchise needed and blends perfectly with the more character-driven nature of the film elevating Naru’s arc.
Prey brings Predator back to the heights of the 1987 original through its return to suspenseful action horror, but also brings along a strong central character arc to chart a new legacy for the franchise. Midthunder is a can’t miss breakout force and the greater use of Native American representation in her story is incredibly impactful because it’s done well and takes place in such an iconic franchise. Prey is one of the best surprises of the year and quite possibly sits at the top of the food chain when it comes to the Predator lineage.