Prey is the most recent installment in a franchise that has struggled to find its way following the unjust box office failure of its second film. After a pair of matches against Alien’s Xenomorphs, a visit to the creature’s hunting preserve and the unmitigated disaster that was The Predator 20th Century Studio looks to the past, September 1719 to be exact, to forge the franchise’s future.
Naru (Amber Midthunder, Roswell, New Mexico, Deadly Species) is a young Comanche woman. She’s a skilled healer but wants to prove herself as a hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). One morning as she’s practicing her skills she sees what she believes to be a Thunderbird in the dark, overcast sky. We know better of course.
It’s not long before one of the tribe’s hunters is found badly injured, presumably by a mountain lion. They set out to hunt it, but it soon becomes clear to Naru that they’re not the only hunters in the forest, and whatever the newcomer is, they are its prey.
Prey’s first act actually feels a bit like Aliens as Naru, like Ripley, has to prove herself to a group of warriors who don’t take her seriously. They also disbelieve her when she says that there’s something unknown out there. It’s a quietly effective buildup with some atmospheric night hunting scenes and with just enough scenes of the Predator dealing with forest dwellers such as snakes and wolves to remind us what we’re watching, and what it’s capable of.
It’s around Prey’s half-hour mark that director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) and writer Patrick Aison hit us with two very different aspects of the film’s horrors. Our first full look at the Predator as it cleans the skull of the wolf we saw it kill. The other is a field full of bison killed by trappers for their hides, their bodies and meat left to rot, something neither Naru nor her alien nemesis can comprehend.
Arguably those trappers are the real villains of Prey. The Predator lives by a code and hunts creatures that can fight back, be it a bear or a poisonous snake. The trappers will kill anything for money and aren’t above trading in other humans either.
Still, it takes until closer to the hour mark before Prey really kicks into gear which is just a bit too long and I started getting impatient. Especially as I fully expected it to happen at a couple of points earlier in the film. But once it does the film delivers multiple bloody setpieces as the creature faces off first against a Comanche hunting party and then in a long and satisfying brutal battle, the trappers.
That battle features the best of several Easter Eggs hidden in Prey, a scene where one of the alien weapons emits flying discs that look a lot like metallic versions of the organic weapons used by the creature in Without Warning, an alien hunting humans film that predates the original Predator by seven years and also featured Kevin Peter Hall in the monster suit.
Dane DiLiegro fills the suit in Prey and plays a different version of the Predator from those in previous versions. Not only does the creature look different but it carries a different assortment of weapons. Yes, it still has plenty of high-tech gear, but whether some of what we saw in previous films hadn’t been invented yet, or due to the more primitive nature of its prey, it uses more bladed and melee-style weapons. My favorite of these resembles a nastier version of the iron fan seen in Asian martial arts films. This one however is capable of taking off a man’s head and slicing through the tree behind him.
Key stunt rigger Ty Trand (Deadpool 2, Cold Pursuit) and his team deserve a lot of credit for pulling off some amazing fight scenes including the climactic showdown between Naru and the Predator. Cinematographer Jeff Cutter (Paul, Orphan) does a good job of capturing them and bringing out the inherent menace of the surroundings whether lush green woodland or the desolate remains of a burnt-out forest. Unfortunately, some rather dodgy CGI blood and body parts take the edge off of these scenes.
While I would have loved to have seen Prey on a large screen and it is so much better than many films that have gotten a theatrical release, I can understand the studio’s decision to send it straight to Hulu. Not only does the franchise have a very spotty track record, but it also lacks familiar names to help sell it. Midthunder may be familiar from her television work, but the only other name I recognized was character actor Julian Black Antelope (Hold the Dark, Don’t Say Its Name) in a small role as Chief Kehetu.
Despite the somewhat slow start, Prey is a worthy addition to the franchise and one of the better recent creature features. It’s available on Hulu in the US and Disney+ in Canada and elsewhere. You can check the film’s webpage for announcements of other availability.