PREY review – A Refreshing Thrill Breathing New Life

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Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, Prey stars Amber Midthunder as Naru, a Comanche woman living on the Great Plains of North America, circa 1719. Naru wants to be as good of a hunter as her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), but is ostracised by the other young men of the tribe for being a woman. Her ultimate test comes when a Predator (performed by Dane DiLiegro) enters their plains, looking for the next big game.

The Predator franchise is a rollercoaster. For every hit or moment of success, there is an equal downfall. 1987’s Predator is a classic, perfectly mixing absurd action with ratcheting sci-fi horror and being eternally rewatchable, while Predator 2 is a gnarly mess of extreme violence and early 90s excess. Alien vs. Predator isn’t a good movie, but it’s certainly a silly and enjoyable one, while it’s sequel is an abysmal and misogynistic nightmare that’s somehow the worst of both franchises. Predators is an underrated delight featuring an incredible cast and some top-notch action, but Shane Black’s The Predator is an embarrassing bore that almost killed everything.

We are certainly on the upswing. Director Dan Trachtenberg has once again played his hand at making a secret genre movie, doing so with terrific effect in his debut feature 10 Cloverfield Lane, a terse survival thriller with only the title to suggest it had connections to Matt Reeves’ 2008 found-footage kaiju film. Prey was at one time called Skulls and would have hidden its connections to the Predator franchise, but such is the way of marketing.

10 Cloverfield Lane does end up feeling burdened by its late-stage attempt to connect things (there is no connection anyway), but Prey succeeds because it has been built from the ground up as something new and different for this long-running series. Prey is the kind of franchise instalment we should be getting. It seems like a miracle that a confident filmmaker gets free reign to do what we haven’t seen before in a franchise that could so easily resist change, but it is here and it is spectacular.

Most if not all of the film is shot on location, and the environment provides us with some truly epic visuals. The roaming hills and endless skies of Alberta, Canada as well as dense forests and crystalline waters means that cinematographer Jeff Cutter works with some inspired subjects, anamorphic lenses stretching perfect light from end to end of the frame. The action is also expertly captured, clean and proficient editing creating a tight focus and intensity you need when dealing with this kind of story.

By having this world be from the perspective of a Comanche woman, Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison allow a more interesting narrative to be told in the Predator series. It has been male-dominated since its inception, with Sanaa Lathan being the franchise’s only female protagonist. Naru is defined by her need to prove herself, preparing and problem-solving her way past traditions of her community and gender, and an invading and vicious alien hunter seems to be the perfect chance to go beyond who she is. Amber Midthunder shines as the character, giving a remarkable and honest vulnerability to an action hero while also performing some incredible stunt work, proving herself as a fair match to this galactic hunter.

Dakota Beavers is also excellent, her and Midthunder having wonderful sibling chemistry that also builds into effective character conflicts. What works the best for this movie is how much we do grow to care for these two young characters, people who are trying to prove themselves but will still do anything to protect and save one another. We can sit back and have a delightful time watching this movie’s Predator (or Yautja as they are correctly known) annihilate a group of rapacious French voyageurs because the Yautja are cool with their gadgets and vicious nature. But it is still an intruder, a destroyer of nature for the sake of a trophy, tying in perfectly to how respectful and intuitive the Native Americans are to their land and its animal inhabitants.

Above all else, Prey is a terrifically good time. It’s wonderful that this has become the most watched Hulu premiere of any kind in the United States and a massive hit on Disney+ in most other territories, but I cannot help but feel annoyed this is not in theatres. It has the vast scope and crowdpleasing action that would become a perfect time out to the local cinema, but such is the world of streaming dominance. A good film is still a good film nonetheless, and Prey breaths fresh and welcome new life into a franchise that needed it. Dan Trachtenberg should be making more movies, Amber Midthunder and Dakota Beavers prove why representation matters, the production and costume design is tremendously accurate and thrilling, and Sarah Schachner’s score is beautiful and awesome. Prey, in its clever use of references to other movies but primarily its confidence to do what we’ve never seen, should be what every dormant learns a lesson from.

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Writer: Patrick Aison (story by Aison and Trachtenberg)

Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro

Christopher John

Christopher John is an emerging flim critic based in Perth and primarily writes for The Curb. He is a double-degree graduate of Edith Cowan University in Communications and Arts, and creates various flim reviews and video essays on his YouTube channel "Christopher John". Christopher has published online work with ECU's Dircksey magazine, Taste of Cinema, Pelican Magazine and Heroic Hollywood. His first love in flim is Star Wars, his newest love is Akira Kurosawa, and hopes his future love will be Tarkovsky and Studio Ghibli (he's getting to it).

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