By Ben Konuch
Editor’s note: In our “Best of 2022” series, A&E writers revisit their favorite movies and television shows that weren’t reviewed during the year.
“It knows how to hunt. But I know how to survive.”
The Predator franchise has been a rocky one. The original 1987 “Predator” is a masterclass in crafting an action thriller, with scenes of big, loud action mixed with moments of quiet horror as characters slowly get picked off brutally by an invisible hunter. The franchise that it spawned, however, is mixed. Some entries in the series I enjoy immensely, like 2010’s “Predators,” while others leave a nasty taste in my mouth, such as the “Aliens vs. Predator” spinoffs. But after the latest installment, 2018’s “The Predator,” failed to both win the hearts of its fanbase and the critics, a drastic overhaul of the series would be needed to keep it alive, and that change came in the form of this year’s “Prey.”
“Prey” is directed by “10 Cloverfield Lane” director Dan Trachtenberg with a script by Patrick Aison, and stars Amber Midthunder as Naru, a young Comanche woman who is trained as a healer but longs to follow in her brother’s footsteps as a hunter. When a member of the tribe is taken by a wild animal, Naru joins her brother in searching for him and hunting whatever took him as her right of passage, all the while unaware that there’s something else hunting in the woods. A newly-arrived Predator seeking the most thrilling hunt and most dangerous adversaries sets its sights on the hunters and a nearby camp of vile French trappers, turning Naru’s right of passage into a bloody, terrifying fight to survive.
“Prey” is a wild, adrenaline-filled thriller through and through, and has finally made the Predator as terrifying as it should be. For the first time since the original film, the Predator is a genuine threat to our characters and has a menacing screen presence. Its intelligence and devotion to finding the greatest threats to hunt open up some ingenious plot devices, and the less-futuristic armor and weaponry mean that this is a creature that can be hurt and can be fought. However, careless attempts to take it down both from Comanche warriors and French trappers give way to shockingly brutal displays of violence.
The film takes its time with its plot, but this never makes it boring. “Prey” consistently builds tension up to the first terrifying emergence of the Predator, lighting the fuse of suspense that only ramps up the longer the film runs. Every fight is thrilling, and every moment that Naru is in danger feels like a genuine threat to the character, with escape and survival oftentimes being nail-bitingly narrow. The pacing rapidly ramps up in the second half of the film, culminating in three back-to-back action sequences that are visceral, emotional and packed with storytelling. “Prey” never sacrifices its characters’ intelligence for the sake of the plot, and the entire film is riddled with clever plot threads and wonderful uses of foreshadowing and the Chekhov’s Gun principle.
The cinematography and directing of “Prey” is a major part of why the action hits so hard. Before the violence kicks in, Trachtenberg treats his audience to gorgeous shots of early American nature, filmed with the permission and blessing from the Stoney Nakoda nation in Canada. But when the hunting starts, the camera work is incredible, capturing both the frantic violence and the hauntingly beautiful scenery of a blood-soaked wilderness.
“Prey” is tense, exciting, graphic, and action-packed. But what makes it work when so many other “Predator” films failed is that it doesn’t neglect its story or its heart. Naru as a character is complex and her journey to find what her life means is the center of the film, not just endless Predator violence. Her brother Taabe, played by Dakota Beavers, is arrogant but also brave, smart and loving. Even when others in his tribe harass and look down on Naru, he believes in her, at least until she fails her first trial. This one plot detail about their relationship saves “Prey” from being the cliched woman warrior type film that a minority of angry fans were complaining it would be when marketing first started. Whenever Naru excels it’s because of her commitment to making her tribe proud, her bravery in the face of danger and her intelligence to outsmart and overcome rather than foolishly fight head on.
Naru longs to be a hunter and her struggle to be one is rooted in historical accuracy and authenticity, as the majority of the film’s cast and even its producer hail from Native American tribes. Their work grounds everything in their depiction of the Comanche tribe in historical reality. This attention to accuracy has permeated multiple areas of “Prey.” The majority of the film is spoken in English, but certain sections see actors speaking authentic Comanche, which all of its indigenous actors spoke. This also gives rise to an entire Comanche language dub of the film with its entire cast reprising their roles, the first ever in cinema history.
“Prey” is a tense, smart thriller full of violent action, great character development and historical authenticity. It captures what the “Predator” franchise could be, and whether you’re a diehard fan or someone who has never seen a “Predator” film in your life, “Prey” is a wild, wild ride.
I give “Prey” a 9.5/10
“Prey” is now streaming on Hulu
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Studios