Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) — Screenplay by Patrick Aison — Story by Patrick Aison & Dan Trachtenberg.
When I was a kid, my father would often want to watch the Alien and Predator films with me. Truth be told, I was probably a little bit too young to watch them when I did, but I didn’t mind and they never gave me nightmares. Instead, for me those films helped to create a love for sci-fi action and sci-fi horror, and I really love watching them over and over again, even though not all of the films are great. As a kid, I vividly remember that, to me, mindblowing moment when an easter egg in Predator 2 revealed a connection between those two franchises.
Since those days I’ve really enjoyed these kinds of films, but I’m also not blind to their faults. I am sometimes quite hard on these films, like I perhaps was in my review of Shane Black’s The Predator (2018), which I thought really missed the mark. In that review, I mentioned that I was worried for potential Predator-reboots because I feared that most people in my age-group (and people younger than me) probably don’t have a lot of love for this franchise. Shane Black’s film left me worried about the future of this franchise, but it makes me very happy to say that Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey gives me new hope for these films because it is an excellent film with a very simple structure that is perfectly executed. I loved every minute of Prey.
Set in 1719, Prey follows Naru (played by Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche warrior, who desperately wants to prove herself in battle and become a great hunter like her brother, Taabe (played by Dakota Beavers). Although she fails to take down a Mountain Lion, which had wounded one of their tribe’s hunters, her brother was there to finish the job. A little bit envious but also frustrated with the way she is viewed in her tribe, Naru leaves home with her trusted dog companion, Sarii, to hunt and prove herself to her tribe.
With Prey, Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison have done the smart thing and stripped every inch of unnecessary fluff away that hurt prior entries and we are left with a film that has all of the essential parts in focus. It is all about the hunt, the hunters, and the hunted. That is all it needs to be, ultimately. But it also looks great, except for maybe one overly dark sequence in the first thirty minutes. Every set-piece after that in this film is just terrific. This time around we’re mostly in the woods in 1700s America, and I just like the idea that these films can essentially just be about throwing a Predator in the middle of nowhere and see what happens.
I think there are a lot of really smart decisions that are made in this film. I really liked how little is said in this film. So many scenes are without much dialogue and the lead actress really carries those scenes well. So many wordless scenes manage to say a lot through expressions or actions from Naru or the Predator. It just works. There is a fantastic little scene early in the film that essentially establishes the food chain, and even though it is pretty much all visual effects, it is just so perfect for this type of film. I thought it was smart to have the dog companion because it adds a level of suspense to every set-piece, especially because Trachtenberg’s film smartly establishes what the Predator can do to wildlife. This film is fun, brutal, and lean. It feels a little bit like a blend of the Predator franchise and both The Revenant and Apocalypto.
Now, admittedly, it is true that a film like this is structurally relatively simple and formulaic, but, on the other hand, a Predator film doesn’t need complex storytelling to work, and, frankly, this franchise has never needed that. It needs intensity, great action, tension, and great creature effects. This film has all of that, as well as a revelatory performance from Amber Midthunder. My one very minor gripe with this film is that it includes a classic line from the original film. It is a cheeky reference, and I wish this sequel/prequel film had shied away from that. But it is a quick blink-and-you-miss it moment in a film that is otherwise exactly what it needed to be.
I am enormously impressed by Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey. The director has cemented the fact that he is a brilliant and underappreciated genre filmmaker, and, even though you have to be careful to use the word ‘best’ to describe new films in a franchise, I think it is more than fair to say that Prey is the best Predator film in decades and arguably as good as, if not better than, the original Schwarzenegger-led sci-fi action classic. Prey is exactly what the Predator franchise needed right now.
8.5 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.