Dan Trachtenberg directs, Amber Midthunder stars in a worthy prequel to the original
An undisputed masterpiece of late ’80s action filmmaking, the John McTiernan-directed Predator, a box-office hit for both 20th Century Fox and future governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, spawned a seemingly endless series of sequels, beginning with Predator 2 in 1990 and until recently, ending on an underwhelming note with the Shane Black written-and-directed The Predator four years ago. Every entry, including two ill-conceived, underwhelming cross-overs with the Alien franchise that are best memory-holed, failed to capture the original’s combination of top-shelf action, unrelenting plot mechanics, or almost as importantly, anyone approaching Schwarzenegger’s star power, presence, or charisma to face off against the alien hunter of the title.
But where there’s a franchise even in name only, there’s an unnamed executive rifling through a studio’s back catalogue for exploitable intellectual property. That the now Disney-owned-and-operated 20th Century Fox failed repeatedly wasn’t enough to end the series or put it on indefinite hold. Luckily for Predator fans, the try, fail, and try again approach to franchise filmmaking has finally paid off via Prey, a lean, economical, efficiently directly prequel to the original directed by Dan Trachtenberg (The Boys, Black Mirror, 10 Cloverfield Lane). Set in the early part of the 18th century on the Great Plains, Prey centers on a deadly encounter between an alien predator and an indigenous Comanche tribe in an era before Western colonization by European immigrants from the East Coast and the Midwest had yet to reach overwhelming numbers.
Prey, however, centers specifically on Naru (Amber Midthunder, Legion), a young warrior woman who despite her obvious skills, talents, and intelligence, faces resistance and sometimes even outright hostility from the men in her tribe. She wants to be seen and treated as an equal; they see her in a restrictive, restricting gender role. Even her older brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers), a respected warrior in his own right, sees Naru’s desire to become a full-fledged warrior as a nuisance or annoyance who he occasionally indulges or defends against the other young warriors who attempt to force Naru into a traditional helper role.
In Patrick Aison’s carefully calibrated screenplay, however, Taabe isn’t a standard-issue villain or even a general antagonist, just a slightly misguided young warrior who doesn’t quite yet see the value Naru can bring to their tribe as a hunter. There’s an offhand push-pull nature to their relationship, a mix of love, affection, and on occasion, frustration typical of siblings regardless of time, place or culture. Their relationship provides Prey with the emotional core necessary to ground the inevitable blood-letting, dismemberment, and mass slaughter that accompanies the alien Predator when he turns his attention away from the plains’ fauna (lions, buffaloes, and bears) to the more challenging bipedal variety of trained Comanche warriors.
Though roughly three hundred years younger than his far future successor in McTiernan’s film, this Predator still retains the advanced weaponry, including an energy-generated invisibility cloak that makes all the deadlier to his non-human and human prey. Treating the original more as a general template than a specific set of rules or formula, Trachtenberg and Aison’s allow Naru, the first to detect the Predator’s presence, to build a storehouse of knowledge about the Predator’s actions and ultimately how to defeat him through observation, experience, and a believable level of guesswork (specifically how the Predator’s tech works and how it can be neutralized, if not turned against him).
Anchored by what should be a star-making turn by Midthunder, Trachtenberg and Aison methodically lay the groundwork for Naru’s intelligence and ingenuity early on and build steadily from there via multiple, overlapping scenes with other members of her tribe and later, the Predator as he switches his hunt from the non-human to human inhabitants of the Great Plains. Those build-up scenes, in turn, make Naru’s transformation from apprentice warrior to full-fledged warrior both believable and root-worthy. If anything, the one-and-down nature of Prey as a prequel to the series means we’re not likely to meet Naru or her tribe again in future installments.
Prey is available to stream via Hulu.