by Sarah Johnson (Twitter:@strappinglass)(4 / 5)
1719, the Northern Great Plains of the Comanche Nation. Much to the annoyance of the men in her tribe, young Naru (Midthunder) wants to be recognised as the capable hunter-warrior she is. She will need all her skills when a lethal alien comes to Earth to stalk the local wildlife.
In terms of diminishing returns, the Predator franchise is a cautionary blockbuster tale. The original Predator, released in 1987, was a Grade-A muscle-actioner. Featuring the genre’s high priest Arnold Schwarzenegger at his most cigar chomping, machine gun firing, get to the choppa-ing iconic. All the pop culture dilution in the world can’t diminish what is still a brilliantly brutal and ballistic explosion of horror and sci-fi, directed with real pace by John McTiernan. The film’s irresistibly simple premise and its huge box office guaranteed sequels would follow.
Which brings us to Prey, the fifth film in the Predator series and its first prequel.
What director Dan Trachtenberg manages here is nothing short of miraculous in franchise terms. The series now runs to four standalone and two Alien team-up entries, yet is creatively spent and its power sapped by over-familiarity. But from this, Trachtenberg produces a prequel that surpasses all but the original Predator, injecting the series with creativity and a new concept bold enough to reboot the franchise into fresh directions.
The year is 1719 and a Comanche woman named Naru wants to join her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) as a hunter-warrior, rejecting the traditional role the tribe has planned for her. Spotting a strange cloud appear in the sky above her, Naru believes the Predator’s arriving spacecraft to be a mythical thunderbird, and a sign that her destiny-defining kühtaamia (great hunt) has begun. A hunt she swiftly realises will demand all her intelligence, ingenuity, and survival skills.
Trachtenberg has said he had the idea for Prey after watching the original film and being disappointed that the Native American character of Billy went out so easily. With his tracking and survival skills, he should have been able to outwit the Predator. That thought has inspired a taut, thrilling film that depicts the Native people as a resourceful, brave, and resilient community living in harmony with their surroundings. Handy for when you’re battling violent out-of-towners, and not just of the extra-terrestrial kind.
Naru and the Predator mirror each other as they follow the hunt, and her quick thinking shows why no human or alien should underestimate her. Taking the concept back nearly three hundred years before the first film also allows for a fiercer, more feral Predator (Dane DiLiegro plus good CGI character work). But this incarnation still packs tech far beyond what is available to those it hunts, if not as advanced as we’re used to seeing on the mandible’d meanie.
Add in beautiful, arresting imagery, thrilling action, brutal fight scenes, a healthy amount of gore, and more than one nod to previous films (including a payoff to something from Predator 2) and you’ve got a hugely entertaining 100 mins. Even Sarii, Naru’s faithful hound, gets in on the action!
It will be exciting to see what Trachtenberg does next, while Midthunder’s exceptional performance deserves to make her a star. For the first time in years I’m excited to see where the Predator franchise goes next (the end credits provide a coda to the film). Predator vs. Ninjas? Or Vikings? Just not Aliens again.