Before Disney acquired 20th Century Fox in 2017, the film studio was well-known as a prolific producer of long-running genre films such as Alien, Predator, and X-Men: The Last Stand, among others, which depicted adroit action scenes set in public parking lots and Canadian forests. (See The Darkest Minds, Elektra, or X-Men: The Last Stand, among others, for examples of the Fox aesthetic at its worst.)
Prey is the latest Fox production to capture both sides of Fox's history while also nodding toward the studios new identity as a Disney-owned content mill for Hulu. The latest entry in the Predator franchise that began in 1987 is a stripped-down version of the usual sci-fi hunt that comes straight to Hulu without hitting movie theaters first.
A new Predator movie should be available for streaming at first glance, but unlike a lot of R-rated sci-fi series, this one has not been popular in years. Predator proved that the series still has loyal followers, but also that the audience is small. Not that the other Predator films have gone too far from the concept of huge, masked, mandible-faced alien monsters that eventually defeat humans.
The concept of a prequel that goes back in time is admirable, especially as the previous series' protagonists will not be born for hundreds of years. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a young Comanche woman who is a hunter for her tribe in the Great Plains of North America in the year 1719, although her family and tribe members are naturally disgruntled about her readiness for this task. Nurture is able to deduce that an alien creature is on the way.
Naru's early scenes with Prey embrace minimalism without completely adhering to it. She learns to keep her tribal duties hidden from the rest of the world, mostly by watching smaller predatory animals in action, then taking them out. (This is the Predator equivalent of a tourist checking out local restaurants.) Eventually, the two cross paths more directly.
Prey makes some concessions to less-adventurous viewers. Rather than making full use of a Comanche language or simply eviting dialogue when possible, the native characters speak primarily in English, in a vernacular that sounds suspiciously like contemporary screenwriters tiptoeing around their inability (or unwillingness) to recreate something older and less immediately familiar. This is part of a larger pattern: Whenever Dan Trachtenberg is asked to withdraw from a scene or even a moment that
Prey is a film about a young lady on a collision course with a cool skull-doctoring alien dude. The rest of the Narus tribe are there to naysay and/or become Predator fodder, while another late-arriving band of fur traders offers up some huntable bodies.
The Predators neon-green blood is also used as an accent color against the more subdued, natural tones of the film setting. One scene pitting Naru against the fur traders is especially stunning, considering it isnt related to the film's iconic monster.
Midthunder is placed under enormous pressure due to her ability to play the only human in the film who isn't there for narrative pleasure, highlighted by tribal makeup. What sets her apart from previous Predator heroines is telegraphed right upfront in dialogue: Do you want to chase something that's after you?
At this stage, Naru isnt talking about the Predator yet, but he might as well be. Like everyone else, the Predator underestimates Naru, keeping his eye on showier, less worthy prey. The simplicity of women can kill as good as men threatens to make Naru a Predator-fighting, bloodthirsty girlboss.
Prey is a direct-to-streaming film that might have won over on the big screen; it is not a game-changing revelation unlike the others. It is a shame, though, that Disney did not select a simultaneous theatrical and streaming release, given that this August is a fairly dry month for wide releases. This movie might make excellent summer drive-in entertainment, in the tradition of other recent non-Fox women-versus-nature films, such as Crawl or The Shallows.
The development of summer entertainment that works as an exciting, unfussy B-movie isn't a specialty that the modern version of Big Disney is accustomed to pursuing. It's probably too much to expect that the Fox acquisition would broaden the variety of films Disney produces rather than simply removing another group of titles from the release schedule.
Maybe thats why Prey doesnt feel shameless, even though it theoretically encompasses everything that's laborious and unspectacular about big-studio filmmaking: a franchise extension traded from one subsidiary to another, designed to induce nostalgia pangs and stimulate Easter-egg hunts. Trachtenbergs film has the elemental appeal of seeing sci-fi/horror weirdness bend the boundaries of the human-against-nature conflict.
On August 5, Prey will be available on Hulu.
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