Amber Midthunder makes for a brilliantly convincing action heroine in this gory and breathlessly thrilling piece of period sci-fi
In the decades since the superb first entry in the series, studios and filmmakers have generally struggled to figure out what to actually do with the Predator. Obviously, his 1987 battle against Arnie remains iconic, and there is some fun to be had with Predator 2, but even that didn’t capture the magic of the original, and the sequels, reboots, and Alien crossovers after that have been varying degrees of rubbish. Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey finally breaks that cycle, easily the best Predator film since the original, and a thrilling, gory highlight of a summer movie season that has rarely risen above “drab.”
Trachtenberg and writer Patrick Aison’s central conceit is ingenious, both in its immediate impact and ability to breathe long-term new life into this series. Instead of trying to expand on any sort of cosmic lore, they instead pare the film back, taking us early 18th Century Comanche territory, where the alien hunter lands and starts picking apart a tribe of hunters, making a dangerous enemy of fierce young woman Naru (Amber Midthunder) in the process. It’s a great idea, to bring the Predator into the past, whilst the choice of this specific colonial era in history lends a real-world heft to the fear of the violent, technologically advanced invader.
Midthunder makes for a fantastically convincing action heroine, Naru learning from every Predator encounter until she herself is an unstoppable warrior, harnessing her fear to turn it into a life-saving fury. Almost the entirety of the cast – with the exception of some French fur-trappers who get turned into mulch by the Predator in a ridiculously fun set-piece – is made up of Native Americans (there is a Comanche dub available), which feels like a significant step forward in terms of representation in sci-fi. Having such a high proportion of the cast be Native also allows Trachtenberg to avoid common Hollywood cliché, treating Naru’s tribe as charmingly flawed, bickering humans.
We maybe spend a bit too much time in their camp at the start, though, and just five or ten minutes shaved off the runtime here and there would have made Prey a perfectly lean and mean thriller. Once we’re into the hunts themselves, they’re breathlessly exciting, from a terrifying early display of the Predator’s raw power to a blackly funny massacre in a thick fog – Trachtenberg doesn’t skimp on the viscera, delivering the exact sort of bloody carnage that ‘80s action movie fans expect.
To fit the aesthetic of the time, Trachtenberg’s Predator is a more primal take than we’ve seen before – still using the iconic, shimmery active camouflage and deadly-but-exploitable heat vision, but with a helmet of bone rather than metal and more focused on arrows and spears than beam cannons. It’s a great choice, drawing more attention to the hulking physicality of the monster, and one that should give this franchise some new life – it’s easy to imagine the Predator tech similarly adapted to other periods of history like medieval Europe or feudal Japan.
At its core, Prey understands the simple appeal of human vs. monster that made the original film so enduring and runs with it. It’s 90-odd minutes of brutal battles, narrow escapes, and hold-your-breath tense matches of lethal hide and seek that certainly has thematic smarts but never browbeats you with them, all anchored by a performance that should by all rights make Amber Midthunder a huge horror and action star. Its lack of cinema release is baffling, but its best qualities still shine on a small screen and will make for a superb Friday night in.
Prey is now streaming on Disney+.Where to watch