Same as the original Predatorreleased in 1987, still feels impeccable for its script and devious casting, and for its abundance of visual and choreographic delights, the bar of “decency” its successors should meet doesn’t seem impossibly high. Prey, a new prequel (not that the timeline matters) directed by Dan Trachtenberg and now available to stream on Hulu erases it and then some, expertly pitting a group of 18th century Comanche trackers against an alien sport hunter. At the same time, he works in dialogue with the first through this transplant, bringing to light a tribe with a case to hold and defend the land they fight on rather than the group of interventionist outsiders from the first entry of the franchise. Despite this allegory of the disputed colonial hierarchy thickening its sufficiently solid action procedures, PreyThe style of still often feels hollow and received, with a slew of drone work, CG creatures, and unimaginative framing and blocking holding it back.
Starring Amber Midthunder as Naru, an aspiring hunter whose brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) roams the Great Plains with the kind of freedom she covets, Prey establishes hierarchies – of gender, food chains and colonial intrusion. and extraterrestrial – its matter center. (Speaking of which, Hulu offers a Comanche-language dub: highly recommended over English, which often feels stiff.) As a wounded, largely unseen leader suffers quietly and a generation of adults seem preoccupied with their own duties, the young people of the tribe – mostly loud men – compete for prestige as they hunt game amidst the forests and plains they inhabit. But Naru, often fired for sex by her brother’s friends, finds herself largely left on her own to pursue the game solo, appearing more self-taught than her male peers. Although recognized as a competent tracker, she should have educated herself, counting her dog Sarii as a key hunting partner.
Enter, then, the Predator: a dreadlocked alien whose advanced weaponry, infrared gaze, obscene height and profound strength put him at the top of the heap among those who would call hunting their calling. As in the wild, the creature preys on such lesser creatures as it can best, its pursuit of humans here giving the film a kind of gladiator ride familiar to the franchise. Arriving in Comanche lands, the Predator sets off in pursuit of a menagerie of creatures for sport before turning its attention to the humans who would hunt them.
The parallels with colonialism here are obvious, hardly requiring an explanation; a previously unknown entity arrives in the Americas by ship, wielding new weapons and structural advantages in search of knowledge and resources long held by the native inhabitants. When challenged in this same pursuit by this native presence and (at least a perception) of competing goals, the invader adopts violence against them, a new career that he sees as inferior to himself. This raises the question of Preythen, if – at least in this case – such a “food chain” or a chain of apparent hierarchies can be disrupted, and how this could be achieved.
To illustrate (or you could say emphasize) this, Trachtenberg highlights footage of various wild game being shot, many of which are rendered in CG. Eagles, snakes, wolves, cougars, deer and more meet or fall under threat from Comanche and Predator weapons in clashes with ping-pong levels of success with dramatic impact . While I’m not here to ask that any of these animals be killed or physically fought for drama’s sake, it’s high time filmmakers realize that our endless exposure to unimaginative CG renderings – and our awareness of them as such – has some impact on their emotional effect. Going from real actors to a pair of CG birds and back again makes for an experience (unless it’s fine-tuned, as it sometimes happens here) about as seamless as switching between a movie and a video game, or even a movie and his phone. The experience is more disruptive than engaging, a distraction akin to being eaten away by a mouth lined with toothless gums. Whether through puppets, prosthetics, or better-integrated renderings, an alternative must be sought for films featuring this sort of thing to succeed.
Fortunately, the scenes with the Predator itself follow better. With the creature played here by Dane DiLiegro in elaborate prosthetics, Prey finds echoes of Kevin Peter Hall’s incarnation of the original Predator through fidelity to his movement style. With gestures pivoting on a dramatic turn from thoughtful and methodical to decisive and stern, there is satisfaction in watching PreyThe Predator doles out asymmetrical violence, especially when encountering parts that (at least in the film’s narrative scheme) seem to deserve it. Both coldly professional and intensely embodied, there’s blood running beneath the action work here in a way that’s rarer with the film’s purely CG scenes; the Predator is all the more to watch as it looks really athletic.
All of this makes Naru a credible, if underrated, underdog. When taking on the Predator (as well as competing with his brother and peers), his air is deft without sounding smug like a credentialed expert. Because of this and her gendered stance, her emotional tenor is a little awkward: striving, deliberate, provocative. The script doesn’t give Midthunder much more than that to play, but she does pretty well with what she’s got. Playing a hunter who is still learning her trade, getting by through a mixture of discipline, skill and invention, her performance is key to describing what gives her even a hope of success.
The film’s action evokes this perspective, using low-angle, grass-height camerawork to capture confrontations amid Alberta’s rivers, cliffs, and swamps. Despite this, it can also often feel sketchy, with reversals of fortune expected in many clashes themselves punctuated by predictable dialogue, interspersed with photographs of rolling drones. Shot by veteran cinematographer Jeff Cutter with a keen eye for visual clarity and no shortage of tricks, Prey is steeped in a visual style that’s appealing but rarely expressive: a kind of capable commercial work. It’s kind of Prey in a nutshell: a product less of a voice or even an experience than of the system we inhabit.
Stay connected with Detroit Metro Times. Subscribe to our newsletters and follow us on Google News, Apple News, TwitterFacebook, Instagram, Reddit or TikTok.