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Prey: An Inspired Back-to-Basics Re-Imagining

Amber Midthunder as Naru and Dane DiLiegro as the Predator in 20th Century Studios' PREY, exclusively on Hulu. Photo by David Bukach. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

With so many of the most enduring cultural monoliths of the 1980s being resurrected for modern audiences, the Predator movies have been left in a curious state. In spite of the classic status of the 1987 original, little is expected of the Predator franchise with it never having gone away and instead eked out an existence in greatly diminished capacity searching for the kind of relevance that has eluded many a nostalgia-driven reboot. The team-up with the Alien franchise, while initially not awful and at least managing to keep the Predator name in the ether, didn’t win over many audiences and neither the 2010 nor 2018 reboots managed to establish enough of an identity or provide enough thrills to restore the franchise to any kind of glory. If Predator was going to have a place in 2022, it urgently needed a fresh overhaul, one that left the immature machismo behind.

When it was first announced, Prey seemed exactly that injection of innovation. Transposing the setting from the modern era to the North American Great Plains pre-European settlement and focusing on a young Comanche woman’s quest to prove herself by hunting down a mighty predator, and with 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg at the head, Prey promised the kind of fresh, exciting setting and perspective that the franchise needed. However, expectations were swiftly dampened in a number of ways.

For one, although the core cast are indeed all bona fide Native Americans, the Comanche dialogue would be in English, an immediate knock to the film’s credibility (albeit with the option to watch the whole film re-dubbed into Comanche with English subtitles). For another, it would go straight to home premiere, and through Disney no less! Surely a watered down, Disney-ified small-screen reimagining is the last thing the franchise needs. Besides, a potentially fun, inspired new setting isn’t all you need for a great movie. Until now, my favourite iteration of Predator might well have been the Family Guy “Kramer vs. Predator” skit, and as beautifully daft as the recasting is, the contest was predictably brief. If Prey was going to restore faith in the franchise, it was going to need to do this right, and follow through with a great action movie.

Some of those fears were founded, some not. Yes, the Comanche dialogue is delivered in English, with the exception of a few proper nouns, and no, Prey isn’t set to see the inside of a theatre. However, the spectacle hardly feels diminished in scope, with the franchise’s taut, streamlined form having always been a plus, and the film has indeed been certified R, joining the likes of Deadpool and Logan in bringing “strong bloody violence” to the Disney streaming platform.

The film holds back on the bloodletting at first though, with a fairly slow first act establishing the status quo that the extra-terrestial game hunter is about to upend. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a young woman who aspires to prove herself as a hunter and join her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) in slaying the cougar threatening their tribe. But when she takes her dog and follows him and his fellows on the hunt, she finds herself on the track of much more dangerous game. However, the extraterrestrials aren’t the only threat in store, with wolves, bears, that cougar, and more.

A Comanche warrior faces off against the predator, bow drawn, a laser's bead on his forehead
Harlan Kywayhat as Itsee in 20th Century Studios’ PREY, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

From here the film takes off and doesn’t let the reins slacken. Having taken its time with the preamble it’s quick to make up the lost ground, staging one action set piece after another with increasingly impressive and gnarly results. The character work is fine, establishing a strong, if predictable dynamic between Naru, Taabe and their concerned, ambivalent mother (Michelle Thrust) and it’s held together very well by Midthunder who proves her mettle as a smart and stubborn heroine, but it’s the two-fisted period action that really sets the screen alight.

The Predator’s respect for the hunt and keeping things fair was an inspired choice back in ’87 and it serves the narrative even better here. The Predator’s toolkit is a little more retro and the familiar methods of fighting back are established through some excellent early sequences, to come back in satisfying ways during the climax, of which I’ll only say that adding snow to a fight scene is such a cheat code. It’s a chef’s kiss every time. This might also be the most awesome design the predator has ever had, with former basketball player Dane DiLiegro donning a distinctive bone headpiece for the role that fits the film’s low-tech aesthetic beautifully.

The Predator, sporting shield and bone headdress
Dane DiLiegro as the Predator in 20th Century Studios’ PREY, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

In an era where every big action movie comes with a seemingly mandatory side order of self-parodic comedy, it’s refreshing to have a reboot that shirks such flippancy, taking its characters and scenario seriously and taking time to let them play out rather than undercutting them. Prey also largely has the good taste to avoid playing too much on crass nostalgic callbacks to the original. There is one overt reference to be sure, but it makes as much sense in context as the line originally did, and Beavers delivers it like a badass. As Trachtenberg did with 10 Cloverfield Lane, Prey takes an established franchise blueprint and gives it a new lease of life by looking at it in a different way.

Besides offering a pared-back, action-packed sci-fi spectacle that’s actually entertaining, Prey succeeds in doing what the last few Predator movies have failed to do in another way: it makes me excited for the franchise’s future. Give us more of this, please! More of Naru training her tribe up to defend themselves when the Predators return, more different societies coming under attack and let those cultures present their own spin on it where possible! Give us medieval knights vs. Predator, give us Mongol warriors vs. Predator, there’s so many avenues for this premise and each one opens up a wealth of possibilities for different stories. If any of them end up as much fun as Prey, I’ll be happy.

Written by Hal Kitchen

Primarily a reviewer of music and films, Hal Kitchen studied at the University of Kent where they graduated with distinction in both Liberal Arts BA and Film MA, specializing in film, gender theory and cultural studies. Whilst at Kent they were the Film & TV sub-editor and later Culture Editor of the campus newspaper InQuire and began a public blog on their Letterboxd account.
Hal joined 25YearsLaterSite as a volunteer writer in May 2020 and resumed their current role of assistant film editor in November 2020.

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