It’s funny that two of action cinema’s most celebrated franchises have been marred in mediocrity over the last decade as the Predator and Terminator franchises (both started by Arnold Schwarzenegger) have released less than favorable entries. Aside from the firat two films in both franchises, the rest have been hit and mostly miss with fans all over the world. While the Terminator films are still broken with the latest, Dark Fate, failing to make a dent at the box office upon release, it looks like Predator is back on track with the release of the new period epic Prey which brings it all back to its savage and primal roots.
Prey was filmed at the height of the pandemic, and I must applaud director Dan Trachtenberg, who is best known for helming 10 Cloverfield Lane, and crew for filming this project under the radar especially in this day and age when social media reveals and takes the mystery out of everything. The movie was announced as a Native American action movie without the thought of it being a new entry in the Predator franchise. Once word hit to what it truly was, fans ran rampant with rumors and thoughts of what it could be and how it would play off.
Prey essentially takes the franchise that has been delivering bombastic entries as of late and strips it down to its essential savage and primal core setting the events 300 years in the past and telling it from the viewpoint of the Native American Commanche tribe. Here, we are introduced to young Naru (a stellar Amber Midthunder) who longs to be a hunter like her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) and the rest of the men in her tribe. You see, staying back at home and cooking and cleaning doesn’t suit Naru well and she longs for the thrill of the hunt and to take down something that could just as easily take her down.
Naru doesn’t care what they all say as she tags along with her brother and posse who are constantly annoyed by her presence, but her brother knows that there is something special about his kid sister, so he lets her come along. Naru does have a lot to learn even though she still can hold her own, and it was refreshing to see her character arc build as when she failed at something she dusted herself off and improved on it.
Enter the antagonist of the story and viewers know it all too well as it is a Predator who has come to Earth circa 1772 in the Great Plains to execute its first hunt on the planet. Just like the first film, Trachtenberg keeps the monster hidden as it is cloaked for most of the first half, but we do get glimpses of this different type of hunter who has a different build and look then previous incarnations. Once the alien is exposed, it definitely has a unique signature as it’s face is different as well as his armor with his helmet being the biggest and most drastic change. Instead of the metallic helmet we are used to, this Predator uses the skull of an earlier kill for its headdress. He also has different weapons and missing is the iconic shoulder cannon which Trachtenberg admitted he took out so it would be more of a fair fight. No worries though as this hunter still has a vast array of hi-tech killing instruments at his disposal and he still has the well-known targeted system on his old school helmet.
Naru sees the arrival of the Predator’s ship and she knows that something wicked is definitely coming this way. Of course, her brother and fellow tribesman don’t believe her and continue about as business as normal tracking animals in the forest. The veritable shit does eventually hit the fan as they encounter the other world hunter and so begins a battle of the fittest which will eventually pit young Naru against this hard to kill warrior.
Trachtenberg and script writer Patrick Aison have really crafted a unique take on this historic series of films and the plot derives from Trachtenberg’s knowledge that Sonny Landham, who starred as Billy in the original, was of Commanche decent. Now we know why Billy was so spooked as he probably grew up with stories of how his ancestors took on something that wasn’t of this world. With that Trachtenberg has driven the franchise back to its core which is a savage and primal one and that is evident in the look of the iconic alien haunter.
The cinematography is exceptional as we are treated with numerous shots of Alberta, Canada where it was shot. The landscape just explodes off the screen and it is just like another character in the movie. The forest and mountains offer a unique hunting ground, and it harkens back to the jungles of Central America where the first one took place. It is a true homage to the original and it works for bringing the films back in time so we can see how it all started.
Naru is a memorable heroine here and she does a lot of growing up during the film’s running time. Midthunder really turns in a star making performance her and she plays Naru as a sympathetic woman while at the same time being a true warrior in the making. You care about here from the start and this helps with her journey as she embraces who see really is and what she is becoming. I’ll never understand those who say this movie is “woke” just because a woman takes the lead here. I guess these fans never really thought about such legendary female characters like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. I guess it was OK in the 80’s to be a tough woman in an action movie but today there has to be an agenda with it. That’s just a load of bullshit and your argument is invalid. Moving on…
The rest of the cast aside from Dakota Beavers who plays her brother Taabe is mostly forgettable or unsympathetic but that is alright because the chemistry and the relationship between Naru and Taabe is what truly gives this movie its heart amidst all the bloody chaos. The rest of the tribe and the slimy white trappers who descend on the land are basically just fodder for the Predator to kill in epic fashion. It’s a shame really as the first movie had so many memorable characters besides Dutch like Dillon, Poncho, Hawkins, Mac and Blaine. Here it’s pretty much just Naru and her brother but that was enough for me in this simpler style of a movie.
The movie runs at a brisk and welcoming 98 minutes and besides some setup during the first half, the rest of the movie is a brutal and barbaric kill fest I loved how Trachtenberg had the Predator systematically kill wild animals first on its way to moving up to the humans. The middle of the film has some of the best sequences with the Predator working up the food chain as he takes out snakes, wolves and a bear in one of the highlights of the pic. Each kill moment is unique and when the alien finally gets to the good stuff, that’s when the movie really shines.
The action sequences are not as over the top as in earlier entries, but they are as ordered with low key altercations being the name of the game. The Predator has multiple blood-soaked induced moments as he carves his way toward the eventual climax and the audience is witness to some top tier gory kills along the way. The scene pitting the hunter against the trappers is a definite cheering moment as you basically root for the Predator as he battles his way through a bunch of sleezy and creepy human foes. We even get a short but sweet one shot take showing off the kill skills of the alien and I will admit that I rewound it more than once before continuing on. The landscape of the dead forest mixed with the fog and mist also gave the sequence a horror film tinge to it that has been missing as of late. It is here that we also get to view one of the most iconic shots of a Predator in any movie.
Midthunder gets ample opportunity to demonstrate the fact that she is a worthy advisory for the hunter as she takes on various animals and men in key sequences leading up to the ultimate confrontation. The scene where Naru takes on a group of trappers is expertly choreographed and well shot including a one-shot segment as well where we see all her hand to hand and weapon prowess. It’s a lightning paced scene that is downright bloody, and the knife techniques employed are first rate. Naru’s encounter with the alien in the finale is as advertised and even though I would have liked it to be a smidge longer, it still delivers the goods. The fight is also realistic as Naru uses her wits, skills and size to outmaneuver the threat and how she finally puts it away is clever and efficient.
I’ve read some comments where people are saying that it is unrealistic for a smaller opponent to take out a much larger one. I guess they never studied martial arts because that is pretty much what studying the arts teaches you to do. I can tell you multiple stories on how I took on bigger guys during altercations throughout my life and won every single one of them. Once again, your argument is invalid and we’re moving on again…
Trachtenberg and Aison also do a great job in employing easter eggs throughout the film that true fans will know and acknowledge. There are spoilers ahead so if you haven’t seen it yet then stop reading. Aside from the connection to Billy, we also get to see how the Flintlock gun that Danny Glover won in the second film came about. At one-point Taabe even spouts off Schwarzenegger’s iconic line of “if it bleeds, we can kill it” which was very welcoming and connected this one with the first film nicely. The whole finale is a complete homage as well as Naru takes on the alien just like Dutch did in the original. I won’t spoil anymore of it so you’ll just have to watch the movie for yourself.
One sad aspect that hit a negative chord with me is that we never get to heat the well-known Predator theme. It has been prevalent in all the films but here it is noticeably missing. It is a small gripe however as the score does elevate the action and tension on the screen and I thought it offered a nice punctuation to the primitive chaos on hand.
I have an idea. I think the future of this particular franchise for upcoming films is to show Predators invading different times throughout history. I have a great idea in putting the next one in Feudal Japan and having Andrew Koji take one on. That would truly be something to see and it would give a different flavor as we could get some serious ass kicking fight choreography. Hell, add in Hiroyuki Sanada,who recently starred with Koji in Bullet Train, doing some crazy sword action and that would seriously blow genre fans’ minds. Take notes 20th Century Films. You’re welcome…
Overall, Prey has done something that the last three movies have failed to do and that’s reinject life into the franchise after the second one. Trachtenberg pays tribute to the series but at the same time offers up a fresh approach to the franchise and strips it down to its savage and primitive core. We are introduced to a heroine in Naru that reminds us of some of the most legendary action and sci-fi heroines to come before her and Amber Midthunder has proven that size does not matter when it comes to kicking ass and taking names. She is spunky, smart and dangerous and she serves as a most worthy opponent for the Predator just like the large men who came before her. The action sequences are brutal and gory, and the kills are effective with the atmosphere injecting a serious horror film vibe to the proceedings. Most of all, the Predator is scary once again and there is no tongue in cheek humor to get in the way of the savagery onscreen. In short, Amber Midthunder ain’t got time to bleed in a solid entry that rips the spine out of the franchise!