Next to The Terminator, it’s hard to think of another film that has had as many failed attempts at kickstarting a franchise as Predator.
While at least T2: Judgement Day exists for its respective series, I think many fans of Predator only consider Predator 2 a guilty pleasure at best and prefer to ignore every film which followed as poor attempts at capturing the lightning in a bottle which was the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster original. Although, perhaps what could change this is if a film took the idea and did something entirely different from what we’ve seen done before.
Prey is an action sci-fi film and Predator prequel directed by Dan Trachtenberg, which acts to clean the slate of the established lore and to tell an origin story for Predator. It follows Naru (Amber Midthunder) a young though extremely high skilled Native American Comanche warrior in 1717. Naru is against the ways of her tribe is intent on being seen as a great hunter and fighter. She discovers that a strange violent and seemingly unstoppable killing machine has taken up her homeland as its new hunting grounds. Naru uses her skills to show that she is in fact the true ultimate warrior of the land.
With an interesting set up, the film brings some much-needed freshness to the franchise by showing us something we haven’t seen before. Where Predator 2 replaced the jungle of South America to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, Prey shows us less action and explosions and instead a more primitive culture, taking on something they do not at all understand.
Unfortunately, it seems not enough faith was given to the audience as while the initial set up has great potential, the film falls to many clichéd Hollywood tropes. For one, it’s a pity that rather than sticking with a more authentic Comanche dialect throughout the film, the characters quickly revert to ‘English with an accent’ to save people who don’t want to read subtitles. A real shame, as later in the film characters speaking another language without subtitles are introduced and it showed this linguistic allowance was unnecessary to tell the story.
Now there is a version of the film available with a Comanche only dub, however, the key word here is ‘dub’. This strikes me as a PR stunt as the film quite clearly has been filmed in English with actors speaking not only in a language inaccurately, but one which comes off as far too modern as well.
Also, the decision to make Naru such a competent warrior and tactician from the beginning scuttles the overall theme of proving oneself that the filmmakers seem most interested to tell. It becomes quite grinding after a while being continuously reminded how in all ways superior Naru is compared to the rest of her tribe, including the seasoned hunters and how, if not for their chauvinism, things would work out. It goes towards making it clear Naru is the only character we’re supposed to care about and as such, the others are little more than meat sacks to up the film’s kill count.
Naru‘s actress Amber Midthunder undeniably has a certain charisma which sticks with you. She had an extremely small role in The Marksman as an ill-fated petrol station clerk and I immediately remembered her while watching this movie. Unfortunately, she feels miscast here as her smaller build doesn’t line up with what we’re told about her capabilities. Compounding this is that pesky anachronistic English dialogue which makes her come off more Valley Girl than Xena Warrior Princess.
It’s a pity that this film will be largely only enjoyed on the small screen as unlike other recent direct to streaming films, Prey looks, and with its Dolby Atmos audio, sounds like it was made for the big screen. With beautiful landscape shots of the American plains and impressive sound design which enhances every punch or roar of a spaceship, this is a film best enjoyed on the largest screen possible with the best sound system available.
As for the sci-fi and horror film fan in me, I admittedly loved the design of the Predator as a character in this film. While other previous movies of the franchise attempt to expand the lore of the species and have, at times, failed spectacularly, Prey succeeded with presenting an alien minus 300 years’ worth of as much technology as his human counterparts. Seeing a predator who is working up to hunting humans and honing his weaponry as the film went on was often the most interesting part of the story.
Although the finale of Prey does tread familiar ground and its human characters are let down by a story of breaking the glass ceiling which takes itself too seriously, this was still an enjoyable film. Faint praise to be sure with the competition being as it is, but Prey thoroughly struck me as the best Predator film in a long time and an interesting take on the franchise.
Prey is Star Original movie that is now available to stream on Disney+.