There are few more dubious cinematic declarations than: “There’s a Predator prequel coming out.” Since the good dumb fun of the original film about the future Governator, Apollo Creed, and a professional wrestler taking on an alien in the forests of South America, there have been more attempts to reboot the Predator franchise than you can shake a laser-sighted weapon at.
And every single one of them has been awful.
So, the idea of Prey: taking the predator to the southern plains and having him hunt Native Americans, while novel, seemed risible. But here’s the thing about movies: any goddamn thing is possible—including making a good Predator film in 2022.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (who helmed the mostly fabulous 13 Cloverfield Lane), Prey is relentlessly paced while also allowing space for character development and some high-end metaphor. There is an implicit feminist statement made by showcasing a young woman from a tribe who desperately wants to hunt with the men. While Naru (the magnetic Amber Midthunder) is partially supported by her brother, other members of the tribe are dismissive about her ability to run with the boys.
An early failure by Naru against a cougar seems to confirm the assessment of the tribe and brings doubt to her brother’s mind as well. Unfortunately for the men in the tribe, the cougar that injured one of their hunters is the least of their concerns, for a dreadlocked, reptilian-faced creature with modern weaponry soon descends upon the tribe and the deathscape becomes very Agatha Christie-like (only way bloodier) on the plains.
Naru and her trusty sidekick Sarii (a shelter dog turned movie star), are soon facing down the Predator together and alone. There’s nothing overly surprising about what plays out in Prey, but it’s the “how” that counts. As Roger Ebert once said, “It’s not what a movie’s about, it’s how it is about it,” that matters.
And Prey is all about the how. The action sequences are all as lean, efficient, and compelling as they need to be—but that’s a minimum expectation. What Prey does so surprisingly well is use its 100 minutes to both entertain and, without a heavy hand, enlighten the audience.
There is a sequence in which Naru comes upon a mass of skinned buffalo carcasses that have been left to rot. Our first inclination is to assume this is the work of the Predator. But Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison are playing the action-movie game with higher minds. What we soon learn is that those carcasses have been left by French trappers, who are as much of a problem for the Comanches as the Predator.
In showcasing the trappers as destroyers who have invaded the plains and left skinned bodies of their conquests in their wake, Trachtenberg and Aison draw a direct comparison between the white “settlers” and the Predator. Neither have any respect for the creatures they’ve killed and neither belong on the land of the indigenous.
That’s some next-level thinking for the seventh iteration of a character many of us were good and over. Even so (and I can hear the chants of some cranking about the film’s “wokeness”), Prey doesn’t sacrifice entertainment for the sake of its subtext. The entire film is a great ride that pays respect to the original (“If it bleeds, we can kill it”), while taking us places we would have never expected a Predator movie would be thoughtful enough to go.
And sure, Prey doesn’t avoid all the clichés and tropes of the Predator series or action films, but what it does surprisingly well is take those tropes and clichés and turn them on their heads by giving the film and the audience more than they needed to just be entertained. It probably would have been easier to have made a straight humans vs. Predator film (although considering the other entries in the series, maybe not), but Prey doesn’t settle for less.
One of the most admirable qualities I find in film is when a filmmaker decides to make a movie better than it needs to be to be a success. That’s the path Trachtenberg has chosen, and in doing so, he has not only made the best Predator movie, he has probably made the best action film of the year.
If you had been able to place a Vegas bet on the odds of either of those scenarios coming to fruition, you would have come away with a sizable bounty. Who would have thought that a Predator movie in the year of our lord, 2022, would achieve such heights?
Prey is the best reinvention of a burnt out film series since Ryan Coogler breathed new life into the Rocky films with Creed. Not only can I hardly believe that I just wrote that, I am even more stunned by the fact that it is a, well, a fact.
Prey can be streamed on Hulu now.