An 18th Century Comanche tribe faces off with the iconic space hunter in this action flick.
First and foremost it's important to give Prey some props for its sheer courage and determination to do something inherently different. No, it's not specifically courageous to make a Predator movie, but everyone involved (and that involves the big studio funding it) deserves a pat on the back for taking such an iconic figure, and let it run wild in an entirely new setting, as is the case here.
Sure, Predator was introduced in the wilds, where a single man fought bravely to defeat this trained and skilled hunter, but this time there's stretches that have more in common with something like a more budget-friendly The Revenant than a kitsch sci-fi film. It's about breaking the mould a bit, and Prey partly succeeds here.
Prey takes place in 1719 in the so-called "Comanche Nation", which refers to the southern plains of what is today Oklahoma. Here we tag along with Naru, played by Amber Midthunder (who also is part Sioux). She's a collector for her tribe, whereas the men traditionally hunt, and she's quite fed up with that particular status quo. But when a mysterious presence threatens the safety of their home she sees an opportunity to prove her mettle.
What follows is about an hour and a half's worth of intense hunting, which ends up involving everything from Belgian poachers to a Revenant-like bear fight, and plenty of sequences where Naru is within an inch of becoming just another trophy on the terrifying Predator's space mantle.
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Thanks to relatively tight direction from Dan Trachtenberg, an incredibly solid central performance from Midthunder and nicely choreographed action sequences which really, as in really, earns its R-Rating, Prey ends up being a reinterpretation worth celebrating, if anything because it cuts away so much of the fat, and gives us a more vulnerable and simple narrative without much of the confusing mythos behind it.
It's simply about a mysterious enemy, who threatens this woman's life, and therefore has to rely blindly on her inherent ability to hunt, fight and learn. That's it. Even if the CG effects, particularly those which have nothing to do with the actual Predator, can look a bit wonky, it even uses its surroundings to great effect, giving the viewer solid contrast, smooth camera movement and positioning and nice visuals overall.
So what's the problem? Well, even if we as the audience already know beforehand that this is a Predator movie through and through, the movie literally doesn't waste a second informing our characters that something alien is going on. What could've been a mysterious threat to the tribe gets incredibly concrete incredibly fast, which does take some wind out of the movie's first half. Naru sees a spaceship in the movie's very first scene, and sure she attaches a mythological, supernatural meaning to what she perceives as something godly, but it would perhaps have been nice for the movie to lead us more carefully on, letting our characters guess a bit, before ultimately falling prey to this particular predator.
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As the hunt intensifies during the second half, the film does find a good groove, and thanks to some inventive gadgets (which are directly inspired by the latest God of War), there's even some dark humour to be found amidst the ribcage-crushing and spine-removing. Ultimately, Prey is a success, as it quite masterfully reinserts this iconic figure into a new set of circumstances, and reinvigorates it as a result. Sure, it doesn't reinvent the wheel, and doesn't need to either, but it is good entertainment, for sure.