Before Disney acquired 20th Century Fox in 2017, the film studio was well-known as a durable genre film such as Alien, Predator, and X-Men series, as well as as an interfering cost-cutter, defined by its willingness to set pivotal action sequences in generic 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 that Fox history, while also nodding toward 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 idea of bringing a new Predator film directly to streaming makes sense at first glance. Unlike a lot of R-rated sci-fi series, this one hasnt been popular in years. Predators and2018s The Predator proved that the series still has loyal fans, but also that the audience is relatively small. Unlike the other Predator films, Prey attempts to recreate giant, masked, mandible-faced alien monsters that eventually fight back.
The notion of a prequel that goes back in time is admirable. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a young Comanche woman who is eager to undertake the necessary training to become a hunter for her tribe in the Great Plains of North America in the year 1719. Her family and tribemates predictably disagree on her readiness for this task, and she is encouraged to assist her people in other ways. Only Naru is willing to hunt down an unfamiliar creature.
Naru trains herself in solitude with a custom-made spear, and she fulfills her tribal duties with her trusty canine sidekick. (This seems like an easy choice for an 8-foot alien who is well-known for visiting local eateries.)
Prey makes some concessions to less-adventurous customers, rather than making full use of a Comanche language or simply eviting dialogue when possible. This is part of a bigger pattern: When Dan Trachtenberg is forced to withdraw for a scene or even a moment that plays more lyrical or mysterious, he tends to lose his temper.
Prey, a film about a young lady on a collision course with a cool skull mask, offers up predator food. A late-arriving band of fur traders offers up some huntable corpses. Sometimes, Trachtenberg provides just enough room for a good view of obstacles, like a particularly slippery mud pit.
The Predators' neon-green blood is also used as an accent color against the less sombre, natural tones of the film setting. The film itself is shot cleanly and clearly, particularly in a scene that doesnt involve the film's iconic monster.
Midthunder is under immense pressure due to her uniqueness as the only human in the film who isn't there for narrative pleasure, displaying her sharp, expressive eyes enhanced by tribal makeup right upfront in dialogue. You want to be a hunter, after all.
At that point, Naru isnt talking about the Predator yet, but he might as well be. When the time comes, the Predator underestimates Naru, keeping his eye on showier, less worthy prey. The simplicity of women can kill as good as men threatens to transform Naru into a Predator-fighting, bloodthirsty girlboss, but Midthunders' performance prevents that from happening.
It would be easy to overhype Prey, because it is a direct-to-streaming film that might have gotten a pass on the big screen. Its certainly better than the other Predator movies, rather than a game-changing revelation. Given that this August is a relatively barren month for wide releases, this movie would make excellent summer drive-in entertainment.
The modern version of Big Disney does not typically pursue summer entertainment that works as an exciting, unfussy B-movie. It's probably too much to hope that the Fox acquisition would diversify the kinds of movies Disney produces, rather than simply removing another group of titles from the release schedule.
Maybe that's why Prey doesn't feel shameless, even if it theoretically encompasses everything that's tedious and unspectacular about big-studio filmmaking: a franchise extension traded from one subsidiary to another, intended to enliven nostalgia pangs and delight in Easter-egg hunts. Trachtenbergs film wields the elemental appeal of watching 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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