Before Disney purchased 20th Century Fox in 2017, the film studio was known as a reliable genre producer, defined by its willingness to shoot pivotal action sequences in common 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 embracing the studio's 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, coming straight to Hulu without hitting movie theaters first.
The Predator proved that the series still has loyal fans, but also that the audience is small at first glance. Other Predatormovies have strayed far from the traditional notion of giant, mandible-faced alien monsters that eventually defeat humans.
Prey is set in the Great Plains of North America in the year 1719, following Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman who is eager to learn the skills necessary to hunt her people in other ways. Only Naru is willing to hunt down an unfamiliar creature when he notices it.
Naru pursues her tribal obligations alongside her trusty canine companion in preys early scenes, mostly by observing smaller predatory animals in action, and then returning them to the Great Plains. (This sounds like a sensible choice for an 8-foot alien with technology far beyond this world, but apparently this is the Predator equivalent of a tourist checking out local eateries.)
Prey makes some concessions to less-adventurous audiences. 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 challenged to release a scene or even a moment that plays
Prey has one thing to offer, particularly as a young lady on a collision course with a cool skull mask. The other members of the Narus tribe are there to naysay and/or become Predator fodder; a late-arriving band of fur traders also offers up some huntable bodies.
The Predators' neon-green blood is used as an accent color against the less muted, natural tones of the film setting. The film itself is shot cleanly and clearly, with one scene that pits Naru against the fur traders being particularly impressive.
Midthunder is placed under significant pressure due to her ability to play the only human in the film who isn't there for narrative pleasure. She excels at delivering a charismatic, athletic performance, highlighted by tribal makeup right upfront in dialogue, as her brother questions her desire to prove herself.
At this point, he isnt talking about the Predator yet, but he may as well be. Naru must actively seek out the alien, who neveridentifies her as a hunt-worthy adversary. Like everyone else, the Predator underestimates Naru, keeping his eye on showier, less-worthy prey. Midthunders' no-nonsense brilliance prevents that from happening.
It is easy to overhype Prey because it is a direct-to-streaming movie that might have won over on the big screen. It's more enjoyable than the other Predator films, although it's a shame that Disney chose to have it simultaneously theatrical and streaming, since this August is a relatively dry month for wide releases. This film would make excellent summer drive-in content, in the tradition of some recent non-Fox women-versus-nature films like Crawl or The Shallows.
The advent of Big Disney in the United States isn't an area that the modern version of the company often explores. It's probably too much to expect that the Fox acquisition would broaden the types of movies Disney produces rather than simply removing another set of titles from the release schedule.
Maybe thats why Prey doesnt feel shameless, despite its theoretical ability to encompass everything that is tedious and unspectacular about big-studio filmmaking: a franchise extension traded from one subsidiary to another, designed to sway nostalgia pangs and stimulate Easter egg hunts. Trachtenbergs film wields the elemental appeal of watching sci-fi/horror weirdness bend the boundaries of the human-against-nature conflict. But it has a keen awareness of its place
On August 5, Prey will launch on Hulu.
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