Written by: Adam Vaughn | August 5th, 2022
Prey (Dan Trachtenberg, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
After seeing the Predator series undergo several disappointing sequels recently, a lot was at stake when I watched director Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey. Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) delivers an original concept while riffing off the established lore and themes found in the many previous movies. Sure enough, Prey takes all the positive and effective elements that fans and viewers love and enjoy, taking it all back to the first Predator to visit Earth, and introduces a new narrative about the Comanche Nation to create a highly enjoyable prequel to the original Predator.
The film follows Naru—played by Amber Midthunder (The Wheel), whose performance absolutely steals the show—as a young Native American woman proving herself to her tribe and her family. When a strange, unnatural presence threatens to disrupt the natural balance on Earth, Naru tries to convince her community that a dangerous force draws nearer. Aided by the best hunters and led by Naru’s brother and future tribe leader Taabe (Dakota Beavers in his debut role) the group hunts down the strange threat, unaware that they will soon come face-to-face with “The Predator.”
There’s much to unpack in Prey, as any fan of the franchise will surely be looking within for the canonization of the rest of the franchise. But the strongest element is the fact that it is placed in a genuinely new time period. Several Predator sequels have hinted that the alien hunter has visited earth long before his arrival in 1987 (the original film), but to actually see a Predator narrative unfold much earlier adds not only a fresh setting but homes in on many of the themes of honor and ritual that come with making a Predator movie. Midthunder fully embodies the character Naru, portraying a strong but naive young female warrior, and an adequate exposition does its job to introduce the Comanche way of life. Prey’s story setting and characters deliver what the Predator franchise has been lacking in the last few installments: a solid cast of human characters worth sympathizing with and following.
Parallel to the intriguing characters and setting, the character of the Predator itself is given an original story, as the viewer gets to see the alien hunter in its earliest stages of hunting experience. Previously, we have been shown a Predator with an already established set of skills and abilities, trained and prepared to take on humankind’s finest warriors. In Prey, we see a Predator who is still young, still learning the art of hunting, unfamiliar with the world around him. Some very fascinating sequences, mainly depicting the circle of life on Earth (a wolf catching a rabbit, a snake catching a mouse, etc.) find a way of incorporating the Predator, showing how the alien hunter not only fits into the world’s food chain, but rapidly makes its way to the top of it.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the freshness of Prey’s material, narratively and continuity-wise, the film does leave a little to be desired. While Trachtenberg aesthetically nails the Predator design and behavior, several new weapons and techniques are introduced that make the first Predator on Earth a bit ambiguous, and not for the better. On the one hand, the creature is established as being the first one of its kind on Earth, working with a barebones arsenal compared to his descendants. On the other hand, in some sequences, the Predator owns weapons, as well as embodies some strategies that make him seem more prepared than the original 1987 menace. While it may seem a small plot detail, it’s certainly something that sticks out for a fan of the franchise.
Additionally, Trachtenberg also digs himself a bit of a tiny hole in terms of making the setting’s theme a bit too dense, or not dense enough. Naru’s coming-of-age story of wanting to prove herself as a woman seems forced, given that the supporting characters (conveniently all guys, including her brother) spend most of the plot saying, “You’re a woman, you can’t do that.” Some additional character choices also stick out as poor writing decisions, not affecting the film as a whole, but are rather brief moments of uncomfortable script. Additionally, halfway through the story, Trachtenberg introduces a band of raggedy and generic French trappers. Truthfully, this entire plot point could be taken out of the film, and there’d be absolutely no effect on the film’s overall impact; quite possibly the story would be stronger.
While Prey is not a perfect film, nor does it overpower the original 1987 classic, but I would boldly state in conclusion that it may be the most creative, engaging, and thematically solid extension to the Predator universe so far. Additionally, Prey comes with a message of female empowerment and representation that will ring well with a modern audience; admittedly, the Predator movies tend to swing highly masculine, so a female protagonist is a wonderful change. While the film at times throws together generic plot points to film up space, overall Trachtenberg is once again able to take a continuation of a franchise (as he did with 10 Cloverfield Lane) and add something new to the series. I wholeheartedly enjoyed seeing one of my favorite franchises given new breadth and my highest hopes is that future directors that are given the reigns to a Predator movie gain inspiration from Trachtenberg’s creative choices and continue to push a fun franchise in equally exciting directions.