Prey will stream exclusively on Hulu on Aug. 5, 2022.
After the middling reception of 2018’s The Predator, director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane, Portal: No Escape) takes the franchise back to the basics in Prey… all the way back to the basics. Set over 250 years before Dutch’s first encounter with that ugly son of a b!t¢#, Prey finds the Predator (Dane DiLiegro) landing in the middle of Comanche Nation for a blood-soaked trophy hunt. It’s an intriguing setup, to take a villain whose initial appearance was defined by how easily he tore through a pack of meatheads armed to the teeth with guns and explosives and transpose it into a time where its targets don’t even have those tools to rely on. But you’d be mistaken to underestimate the Comanche’s odds. Prey tracks the battle for the tribe’s survival through a blisteringly paced, take-no-prisoners tear through the Great Plains while both honoring the roots of the franchise and serving as the perfect entry point for newcomers who want to see what all this spine-ripping, laser-guided goodness is about.
At the heart of the Comanche’s conflict with the Predator is Naru (Amber Midthunder), a teenage girl ridiculed by her family and peers for not being content to harvest crops for the rest of her life. Like her warchief father, she’s a fighter at heart and intent on completing the Comanche hunter’s rite of passage: to hunt something that’s hunting her. But not even her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), who leads the Comanche’s hunters, believes that to be possible. It gnaws at Naru throughout the film -- more as those around her continue to look past her obvious skill -- and it’s that frustration that fuels Amber Midthunder’s take on the character. Naru’s fight to be taken seriously by her tribe as a warrior is a strong throughline, and that’s a good thing, because hers is the only one the script takes any significant time to focus on. Previous Predator films have mined great material from the interplay between characters going up against the alien hunter, and Prey’s choice to focus on Naru to the exclusion of everyone else means that the supporting characters are a little thinly drawn.
As Naru’s story kicks off, Trachtenberg weaves in scenes of the Predator working his way up the food chain, which serve a dual function: they demonstrate its strength and technological advantage, while building tension in the lead-up to its first face-to-face encounter with the budding Comanche warrior. It’s also through these episodes that the movie begins to draw distinctions between Naru and the Predator’s hunting styles, with the Predator’s overreliance on its tech providing the first hints at how it could be beaten. By comparison, Trachtenberg takes pains to highlight Naru’s secret weapon: critical thinking. Whether it’s in a scuffle with the boys in her tribe or as she’s hiding from the Predator as he tears his way through the Plains, Naru is always listening and noticing, always using a loss or setback as a learning opportunity. It’s a crucial and well-communicated aspect of a character that, given the significant disadvantage she’s at in single combat, hammers home that Naru is the only person capable of stopping the Predator’s rampage. Prey places a lot of stock in Naru, with her at the center of nearly every scene, and Midthunder more than keeps up with the ferocious pace of the action as she is constantly undermined and underestimated, making her victories that much more impactful. At once dry-witted, determined, and capable, Midthunder’s Naru is an excellent addition to the canon of sci-fi heroes, and that axe-on-a-rope that she hurls around Scorpion-style will be the bane of convention security checks for years to come.
If you were worried that Prey taking place 268 years before the original would mean more rudimentary gear for the Predator, you’ll be pleased to hear that Trachtenberg finds room for most of its signature weapons in between the rib cages of those unfortunate enough to get in its way. And the Predator’s rampage through Comanche Nation looks incredible: the film was shot on location in Alberta, and Trachtenberg uses that expansive terrain to make Naru and the Comanche feel even more insignificant next to the towering alien stalking them. The Predator isn’t the only foe that Naru faces, with a second party of invaders crashing in midway through, giving way to an extended and absolutely vicious confrontation between all three parties.
Prey’s approach to the Predator’s attacks alternate between quick, fraught encounters which Trachtenberg covers well (there’s an especially nice one-take fight scene to keep an eye out for), and long, drawn-out games of cat and mouse, chess matches in the trees where the Predator yells “checkmate” by snapping people like twigs. Prey is judicious with how it applies these different approaches and, even when the plot feels like it’s on auto-pilot, the way Naru’s encounters with her enemies play out come across as dangerous and unpredictable. Trachtenberg wisely assigns the Predator’s goriest and most brutal kills away from the Comanche and over to the story’s other foes, who tote more “modern” weapons. The Predator’s advantage is significant, and with Prey serving as a rare, high-profile genre platform for Native culture, it may have been overkill to luxuriate in the comparatively under-equipped Comanche’s deaths. Though the Predator spares no one, Trachtenberg films their undoings with a judicious eye, ensuring their deaths are a measure more dignified than how the rest of the characters bite it.
Screenwriter Patrick Aison’s script draws some smart parallels between Naru’s enemies, with their differing approaches to the hunt full of thematic fodder for Trachtenberg to drive home the injustice that recurs throughout Naru’s story. While the metaphors are clear and vital, Prey’s narrative structure does hew exceptionally close to that of Predator’s: a mission, a trip into the wilderness, an encounter with an unseen foe… you get the idea. For newcomers, this won’t be a distraction, but it does mean that existing Predator fans may find themselves putting the pieces together a lot earlier on, which does deflate some of the tension in the third act. But with a runtime of just over 90 minutes, at least it takes no breaks in getting to where it’s going. There’s not an ounce of fat on Prey, with every piece building off what’s come before and mining every piece of setup for a well-established payoff.
There’s also a dog. The dog’s name is Sarii. Sarii is a very good dog.