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Prey reinvents the Predator franchise

Amber Midthunder deserves to be a massive star.

“Thinking outside the box” for big franchises goes wrong more often than not. Thinking outside the box put Jason in Space. Thinking outside the box led to Michael Myers killing off Laurie Strode in the opening sequence of Halloween: Resurrection. Thinking outside the box doesn’t usually end well. Enter Prey, the Predator movie most people didn’t realize was a Predator movie. Set on the Great Plains in 1719, the film pits an alien hunter-warrior against the Comanches. It could easily have been a disaster, but somehow, it works.

The story follows the young Naru (Amber Midthunder) as she tries to establish herself as a hunter. Her brother is one of the most skilled hunters and warriors in the tribe, but she struggles to prove herself. Her journey is not only littered with obstacles but also failures and mishaps. Early scenes hint at an encroaching outside threat. An invisible creature leaves enormous footprints in the mud. It skins a rattlesnake alive and drives away a puma from its kill. While, as an audience, we might know what is lurking in the shadows, the slow reveal works remarkably well, re-establishing elements of Predator lore while also building Naru’s character. 

So much of the film’s strength lies in the writing of Naru and Amber Midthunder’s charismatic performance. She’s intense, but her perceptiveness and warmth prevent the characterization from being one-note. She can translate a cocksure “I want to prove myself” energy with the fragility of someone facing a threat far beyond her scope. Often operating in silence or in tandem with her trusty dog companion, her presence ties together shots and ideas while setting the tone for the entire film.

Prey also brings in some interesting ideas, a powerful genre exercise that effectively builds up the tension while offering solid payoffs. The Predator is not the only threat facing the Comanches in the film. The French colonizers are also just on the peripheries, leaving gnarly traps in the woods and brutally killing buffalo. As they become more present in the film, they’re seen as barbaric and cruel, operating without even the vague code of honour that the Predator has. The French characters, however, are mostly not played by French-speaking actors and not all of the characterizations land because the dialogue often feels run through Google Translate. 

Prey review

The film offers an exciting conversation with the previous Predator films. It uses inspiration of earlier movies to create a story (drawing on the tracker character, Billy Sole, and later in Predator 2, the discovery of a 17th-century pistol in the ship) and how it engages with ideas of colonization and masculinity. The film not only seems critical of the hyper-masculinity of the previous entries but also of the trope of the Strong Female Character, as it presents Naru as fallible and feminine. In true genre fashion, the movie’s structure and characterization allow for engagement with complex ideas surrounding our conception of gender and strength. 

Her fragility as a human being in the face of the overwhelming threats surrounding her is also her greatest strength. She has to adapt and learn to better understand the danger she’s facing. Even for audiences familiar with the Predator, learning through her creates a lot of tension and engagement. It also underlines a fundamental optimism in the human condition that people’s vulnerability might be one of our greatest assets.

This idea complicates the heroism of the film as well, particularly as the looming threat of the settlers never entirely fades away. In the tradition of horror movies like Black Christmas (1974), which ends on a note of uncertainty and despair, this film has a similar ending that can be read as either bleak or resilient. As most stories about First Nations people are told about their past as if they were relics of history rather than living and breathing people, this film complicates that reading by suggesting an enduring and ongoing struggle that persists to this day. 

Prey hits Disney Plus directly, and it’s a bit of a shame because it’s easy to imagine this film as a huge crowd pleaser. It’s not only original and ambitious, centred on a compelling character, but consistently features well-shot set pieces and action sequences. The Predator feels threatening, but so do so many other things; wild animals, the natural world and greedy human beings. It’s a movie that utilizes each minute of its runtime effectively. ■

Prey, directed by Dan Trachtenberg

Prey is currently streaming on Disney Plus.

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