Published on August 8th, 2022 | by Craig Silliphant0
Lo and behold, another film in the Predator franchise! In Prey, Amber Midthunder takes on an ugly as heck hunter from space in the 1700s.
It’s honestly difficult to keep some of the more generic Predator movies straight in my mind — and it’s already a franchise that varies widely in quality.
The high point was in 1987 with the first film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and helmed by the venerable action director John McTiernan. Predator set the template with a fun and highly quotable movie. The sequel, 1990’s Predator 2, had a good idea, but it’s fairly uneven. There was Predators and The Predator in the 2010s, which were okay, but ultimately pretty forgettable. And then there were the unwatchable Alien vs Predator films in the early aughts, where they ruined a great crossover idea ripped from the pages of Dark Horse Comics.
Now we have Prey, which is probably the 2nd best film in the franchise, from somewhat underrated director Dan Tractenberg.
It owes a lot to the source material, though instead of a jacked, cigar-chomping Arnie and a bunch of politically incorrect military dudes, this time the ugliest alien around finds his potential prey in the 1700s among the various bears, fur trappers, and Indigenous people that populate his landing zone.
Amber Midthunder plays Naru, a young Indigenous woman who wants to be a warrior, though her ambitions are usually rebuffed by the ‘jock’ warriors and perhaps more gently by her brother, a fierce warrior himself, whom she loves and respects. Naru is strong, smart female character. In fact, she and Dutch are really the two most iconic Predator protagonists I can think of.
Aside from Midthunder’s work, the strength of this movie is that it’s a tight little thriller. It sets up a great main character and her motivations and obstacles, then drops a Predator on her world. In a time when too many movies are bloated and self-indulgent, with running times pushing two and a half hours for goofy comedies, Prey is a lean, mean hour and 39 minutes. Like the Predator itself, there’s not a lot of fat on this baby.
I have seen some people saying it’s better than the original, which is a sentiment I can’t back. While not at Force Awakens soft reboot-level of ripoff/homage, it’s not some wholly original idea. It’s definitely gone back to the DNA of what made the original work; hunter and prey fighting in the elements of nature, the Predator picking off targets one-by-one like a slasher movie killer.
But the original, while somewhat dated by the era it was released, is still superior. Prey looks great and it has some fun sequences and a strong lead, but there is almost zero mystery. In the original, both Dutch and his men, as well as the audience, are following a trail of destruction to an unknown source. They find skinned Green Berets — and then something starts stalking them. Until it’s slowly revealed what the extra-terrestrial hunter is — and what it is capable of. It’s easy to forget that a chunk of the film is a mystery if you’ve seen it a lot. And even easier to let the carnage of scenes, like Jesse Ventura mowing down the jungle with Ol’ Painless, stick out in your mind.
At any rate, there’s very little mystery in Prey, other than not seeing the Predator in full right away. And mostly that’s so Naru has to convince her people she’s seen something. As a side note, a cloaking device seems like a pretty chicken move if you ask me…it’s easy to kill anything when you’re invisible. But sometimes Prey mistakes a body count for the same type of tension that Predator crafted so well. And while the mayhem is fun in both movies, the original is creepier and reveals its mystery more deftly, especially for such a loud, bombastic 80s movie.
To be fair, perhaps it’s harder to craft that mystery in 2022 because the Predator is a part of pop culture now — we all know what it is.
On an even more macro level, the entire Predator concept is awesomely fun, but admittedly pretty thin. There are probably smart ways to expand on it, like say, a futuristic interstellar war with the Predator race or something. Hmmm…we’ve only ever seen hunters. Are they an entire race of hunters? Are there also Predator accountants and lounge singers and firemen?
I am curious as to what my Indigenous friends would think about the film. Do they see a strong character and their heritage reflected in a smart way? Or do they see Hollywood appropriation and perhaps even offensive stereotypes?
I hope I haven’t sounded overly negative about the Predator concept; I do like it. Like the similarly rocky Terminator franchise, I’m always up for seeing whether the new one will be another bad entry that cheeses me off — or something worthy of the canon.
Prey is incredibly successful in telling a smaller story with good character driven action. We’ll see if it’s enough to breathe a bit of life into this often-flailing franchise. But it’s the kind of smaller, unassuming movie that can be a really fun surprise watch. A more than worthy trophy for your collection of skulls.