For a prequel in a long running franchise, Prey has no right to be as good as it is. Yet, Dan Trachtenberg has helmed a fantastic genre film with Amber Midthunder emerging as an absolute star. A fantastic must watch film.
Naru (Amber Midthunder), wants to emerge as the latest hunter in her Comanche tribe in the 1700s. Undermined by those around her, she is not seen as good enough to take the final trial. At the same time a new hunter has arrived into the area that wants a challenge.
It is a testament to the work carried out by Trachtenberg and his team at how seriously they take the story that makes the entire film work so much more. There are no cheesy stupid one liners or daft jokers. This world has no time for that and as such there isn’t a bad performance in sight. Amber Midthunder comes out of the film as an absolute star and clearly will have a big career after this now. All of her scenes with her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) work wonderfully, there is a connection there that feels like siblings, a bond that honestly hasn’t been seen in the other films in the franchise. As their arc continues, the emotional stakes rise more and more as the threat of the Predator gets closer.
Midhunter, takes the film by the scruff of the neck and makes it her own from the first minute. Her presence is felt in every scene; you resonate easily with her and as she gets in more danger, you genuinely feel tension within you rise up. For an genre film that is action heavy it can be hard to get the characterisations to come through.
She makes this film her own, and importantly there is nothing she does that is out of the ordinary; her moments feel real (other than fighting a hulking alien). Her actions all make sense, including her multiple fight scenes. It fells like a real fight each time, no matter who she is against, whether it be solo fights or when people team up. It all works really well and, as such, makes it so much more effective to audiences.
A word needs to be said for our new predator Dane DiLiegro who is able to give us something a touch different from the Predator, they have always been a hulking ominous presence, but his physical performance brings an urgency to the character; he has an agility that makes his Predator feel more of a threat, not really a Predator that is happy to sit in the trees (or a building) and just shoot continually from hundreds of feet away, oh no, this one loves the idea of one on one combat.
The fact that Prey is trying to make the lore of the Predator make sense even comes through in the evolution of the Predator themselves. They do not rock up here with all of their gadgets from previous films. No, their weapons are even a touch more primitive and in this case our Predator actually seems to enjoy the risk of hand-to-hand combat. Compare this to the bells and whistles in the next films and this fight actually feels more akin to a far fight, despite that pesky invisibility.
The seriousness continues with the themes of the story in itself. The battle for the Comanche Nation to be able to keep going on their own land (despite them clearly on the move after they find a different group of people). Also the fact that Naru is fighting against the sexism of the hunters who do not want her there and only take her on a trip because of her tracking and healing skills. While the other films have been about surviving the Predator with a hint of story scattered around it Prey has so much more going on.
Predator had the fake mission and betrayal of Dutch and his team with Dillion. Predator 2 had Harrigan trying to do the best he could in a city that was a losing battle. The rest never had anything else to grab us with, and although, on occasion, just being a straight survival flick can appeal, when there is a bit of emotion and thought to the characters and their arcs, it makes the film so much better. With Naru, she wants to be a hunter like her brother and other family members. To not just fill the role of a healer like her mother, she thinks and knows she can do more. She has something to prove; at times is so strong-headed about her goal that she puts herself at serious risk.
When the film takes new ideas and goes with them, it feels so refreshing, little things that help elevate the concept of the Predator and how humans can overcome such a creature. For example, there is actually a very clever moment early on that feels like a homage (one of many) to the original film. Still, instead of using that how we would expect later on in the movie, like how Predators did, they change it up, the moments are not rehashed, so when that moment comes back near the finale, it is terrific.
Seeing callbacks as moments and small teases works so much better than repeating lines like “You are one ugly Motherfucker”, which by the Alien vs Predator films were eye rolling annoyingly. Prey does fall foul of using the odd line here and there with one specific line has an odd pause before and after, and it got to the point where I expected the actor to look at the camera and give a cheeky wink. As a fault, that is really as far as it goes for Prey. After that, it really is just an excellent film.
There is a moment at the end of the film that is especially for fans of the franchise, raises far more questions than answers, and is a wonderful tease. The true thing to hate about Prey? This is a film made for the big screen; it is gorgeous and one that has to be seen in a group setting. It’s such a shame that it never had that chance to have all the glory in a cinema. Yet, if films like this get made, and the only option is screaming for release, then so be it. A good film is a good film; no matter what, it will find its audience— Prey is a must-watch.
Oh and as an aside, if you can, watch the Comanche dub version first. It’s worth it.
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