Prey is the fifth installment in the Predator franchise (and seventh if you count the two Alien vs. Predator films). It is also by default the fourth best in the series, following the original Predator and the 1990s underrated Predator (although some Den of Geek staff keep threatening to revise the latter). Nevertheless, we are pleased to report that Prey takes an approach that is both fresh and back to basics with this material, while preserving any ulterior motives that have
Prey brings the franchise back to nature, in this case a forest and plains, which is where it belongs. The best Predator films work in such an environment, whether it's a jungle or woodlands, while the worse ones are set in urban or suburban areas.
When the Predator can land in a high-visibility location, one starts to wonder why there isn't a full-on military response? Even if the government is typically attempting to keep the existence of the creatures a secret, it appears that they would have to intervene when violence reigns in a large metropolitan area.
The location of the film, however, was not only in a forest, but on the Northern Great Plains some 300 years ago. Naru (Amber Midthunder), a highly skilled tracker and hunter, is nevertheless dismissed by the male members of her tribe, including her own brother (Dakota Beavers), especially when she warns that the danger she faces is far greater than a lion or other wild animal.
The film immediately creates a greater sense of tension by setting the Predator in the 17th century and placing him in conflict with a Native American tribe and a female warrior? Can arrows and spears use to defeat an invisibility mask and plasma weapons?
Naru, her brother, and several other warriors head into the forest to discover what's stalking their village, only to obtain much more than they bargained for.
As Naru, Midthunder (recently seen on Roswell, New Mexico, and opposite Liam Neeson in The Ice Road) has an appealing, no-nonsense believable presence, even if her range is somewhat limited. The rest of the cast, made up almost entirely of Native American and First Nations actors, is similarly impressive, even if their roles are barely sketched in.
The most common mistake that the film makes is the way it handles dialogue. Although the film is in English with a few Comanche words here and there, the young actors make no effort whatsoever to appear like humans from an earlier era; much of the dialogue is delivered as if they are twentysomethings living in 2022 doing some cosplay in the woods.
It's jarring, especially when you consider their visual accuracy and depth, and it takes one out of the film (there is a complete Comanche version out there, which might be better, but we haven't had a chance to try it).
The ensemble is solid in the action scenes, and director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) keeps the narrative moving at a steady pace. The Predator itself (played this time by former pro basketball player Dane DiLiegro) is still recognisably the Predator. Also the effects, a mix of DiLiegro in the suit and CGI, are effective.
Trachtenberg takes advantage of the vast, beautiful forests of the Stoney Nakoda Nation near Calgary, where much of the film was shot, while enhancing the authenticity of the film and creating an oppressive sensation of terror as Naru and his team venture deeper into the overbearing forest.
Fans have complained that 20th Century Studios (a subsidiary of Disney) has chosen to premier this film on Hulu rather than as a theatrical release as every previous Predator film. However, a quick look at the box office history shows that the series has never been more than a modest box office success overall, and the last installment, The Predator, was a costly flop.
Combine that with the still-lingering COVID effects on the box office, a film that doesnt skimp on gore and would probably get an R rating, and Disney would take the much less risky route of streaming the film on one of its two major platforms where it would have a much better chance of being seen.
The truth is, it seems to be OK to do this. Prey is a modest sci-fi action thriller, a return in many ways to the series' simple roots, and largely successful on its own terms as a result. The Predator series has tried in the past to compete with the much more expansive Alien franchise, and we now know its better off not trying.
Prey is now available on Hulu.