Efficiently thrilling and character-driven, Dan Tractenberg’s Prey breaths fresh life into the Predator franchise while also serving as a breakthrough vehicle for star Amber Midthunder.
Midthunder stars as Naru, a young Comanche woman living on the Great Plains in 1719. Naru dreams of becoming a great hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), but is relegated to providing medical help. One day, Naru sees the Predator’s spacecraft and interprets this as a sign to prove herself.
Following a mountain lion attack, Naru recognizes the Predator’s danger and sets off to hunt it down. Accompanied by her faithful dog Sarii, Naru attempts to navigate the dangers in the wilderness while trying to understand and defeat the alien hunter.
I know that doesn’t sound very plot heavy, and that’s the brilliance of the film. The filmmakers are smart enough to know the audience is aware of what a Predator is. There doesn’t need to be extensive backstory in order to get everyone on the same page. Once the characters and setting is established, the story is quickly propelled forward. It’s streamlined entertainment at its finest.
It takes a bit of time for the Predator to start human killing, but it makes sense. This is a world where the food chain isn’t obvious in 1719. The Predator begins with a snake, moves to a wolf, then a bear, and eventually realizes humans are the alpha species. When the Predator eventually starts killing humans, that’s when the film kicks into high gear. Despite the advanced technology shown in previous Predator films, the technology might be advanced for 1719, but it’s 260 years behind the first film. It’s still all really cool and violent.
Midthunder grounds everything with her deft performance. Naru is not someone who is meek and incapable only to meet the challenge of facing the Predator. She is aching to break out of her medical role to become a hunter. A few brief establishing scenes prove her capability. Midthunder utilizes this physicality to make every feat believable. I know it’s easy to dismiss a film where a female protagonist takes on a superior alien, but each fight scene is coolly aware of the physical limitations of a woman fighting a man. She takes her fair share of the beatings but uses her strengths and intelligence.
The main success in the film lies in the character-driven narrative. The audience is deeply invested in Naru and Sarii without the Predator coming into the picture. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. This is a prime example of how an IP-driven film can be complimented by the main draw, rather than be solely focused on that particular character. The Predator is a part of this world, not the focus.
The idea of dropping a Predator into a historical setting is one so painfully obvious, it’s shocking it didn’t happen before. It not only provides an intriguing backdrop, it also puts some historical perspective on the dangers faced by the Comanche people outside of aliens. Dangers are apparent outside of the massive hunting alien.
Fans of the Predator franchise as well as those looking for a sleek survivalist thriller are in for a treat with Prey. At an economic 100 minutes, Tractenberg and Midthunder provide the stylish action for all comers.
Prey is currently streaming on Hulu