Movie Review: ‘Prey’ (Second Opinion)

Plot: In 1719 on the Great Plains, Comanche Naru (Amber Midthunder) yearns to be a hunter and a warrior like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). After seeing a mysterious anomaly in the sky, Naru takes it as a sign to prove herself as a warrior. Little does she know that an alien Predator has come to Earth and begun hunting the local wildlife, including the men of her tribe. Set on a path that will push her to her physical and emotional limits, Naru must utilize her stealth, cunning, and skill to kill the Predator and take her place among the great warriors of her tribe.

Review: Ever since Predator was released in 1987, various writers and directors have attempted to recapture the glory of the John McTiernan classic with varying degrees of success. Efforts have ranged from entertaining (Predators) to downright abysmal (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem). Unfortunately – and despite my nostalgic feelings for Predator 2 – nothing has ever come close to mimicking the magic of the original.

Until now.

With Prey, director Dan Trachtenberg delivers not only a worthy addition to the Predator franchise but an excellent film in its own right. Perfectly paced and almost stark in its simplicity, at 100 minutes, Prey is a lean, sci-fi action thriller that easily slides into the #2 spot behind the original for best in the franchise. In an era where genre films often veer into bloated bombast, Trachtenberg’s Prey makes every shot count. Every scene feels vital and necessary.

Injecting new life into a franchise that’s had six previous entries necessitates a fresh and unique take. Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison do just that, smartly setting Prey’s events 300 years in the past. Doing so distances Prey from previous films while tipping the cap to the events of Predator 2.  It also presents an interesting premise. Dutch and the gang were already technologically outmatched in the original film despite having 20th-century firepower. What tactic do you take against an advanced alien enemy when your best options for weapons are tomahawks, arrows, and muskets? It’s an interesting question to pose and the answers make for an extremely entertaining film.

At the heart of this film is the incredible performance of Amber Midthunder as Naru. She’s completely captivating from start to finish and in virtually every scene in the film. What makes Midthunder’s Naru compelling and likable is the fact that she’s not a Mary Sue. While she does have some inherent skills, she grows and learns as the film progresses. Whether it’s discovering a certain plant cools down her body temperature allowing her to hide from the Predator, learning the intricacies of an 18th-century pistol, or figuring out a way to turn the tables on the Predator through stealth and guile rather than brute strength, this is a true character arc for Naru. It makes her journey all the more exciting and the ultimate confrontation incredibly satisfying.

What surprised me the most was how visually arresting Prey was. Jeff Cuter’s cinematography is nothing less than sublime. Shot amidst the sweeping plains and magnificent forests of Calgary, Alberta, Prey has no business looking this beautiful. It’s a shame this film was not released in theaters because this would have looked amazing in IMAX. Sarah Schachner’s lyrical score perfectly complements Cutter’s shots and the set and costume design add an air of authenticity that draws you into this world wholly and completely.

The Predator special effects are excellent as well. While there are elements that evoke the traditional creature, it looks distinct and different in multiple ways. Its technology isn’t quite as powerful and devasting yet still vastly superior and effective. Everything from specialty arrows to mechanical metal devices that remove limbs with ease lends an air of menace to every move the Predator makes. The creature design is excellent and for maybe the first time since the original, the Predator comes off as a truly terrifying creature. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of some of the CGI which comes off slightly dodgy, in particular a poorly rendered bear and snake. Yet I chalk this up more to budget concerns and a digital effect backlog due to COVID.

And the kills? Easily some of the best of the franchise. Make no mistake this movie is brutal, gruesome, and bloody.

Aside from a few minor quibbles, I’m in awe of Prey. This movie has no business being this fantastic. After three and half decades, Prey breathes new life into a franchise that, even though it bleeds, you apparently can’t kill.

My rating system:

God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad

2 Straight Garbage

3 Bad

4 Sub Par

5 Average

6 Ok

7 Good

8 Very Good

9 Great

10 A Must See

Prey: 9/10