When The Predator was released in 2018, I said that Predator (1987) was a “one-off idea that should never have been franchised”. Well, I take it back because Prey is a perfect movie. It’s a simple premise executed SPECTACULARLY well—and it’s not burdened with setting up a bunch of sequels—which reimagines the Predator mythos in a new time and place, bringing freshness to the Predator franchise. It turns out, all Predator needs to work in the 21st century is an 18th century story.
It's 1719 in Comanche territory in the Great Plains. White men have arrived in the form of French trappers (portrayed as cartoonishly as Native Americans usually are in Hollywood films), but Naru (Amber Midthunder) is worried about surviving an upcoming trial of worth, to prove herself as a hunter, not just a budding healer under her mother’s tutelage.
Her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers), is already a celebrated hunter, but Naru faces judgment and ridicule for going against the societal grain, in which men hunt and women gather. There are no wizened elders here or mystical talk about wild spirits. This is a society with any society’s usual prejudices, petty rivalries, and jealousies between young people striving to stand out. But Naru has an advantage: used to being overlooked, she has developed a keen sense of environmental awareness, and she has a knack for invention, such as tying her tomahawk on a long string so she can sling it around like a whip. Some dumb guy makes fun of her for that, but that “leash” proves to be one of her best ideas.
One day, Naru sees something large moving in the clouds, leaving a wake of fire. She believes it’s a Thunderbird, a sign that she will be tested. Well, she’s not wrong. Because just as the white men have come and disrupted the natural order of the world around Naru, so does a Predator arrive and begin further disruptions. Naru, a watcher as much as a hunter, is the first to recognize the strange, huge tracks in the woods, and to grasp that something is hunting the hunters, killing predator animals for sport. At first, no one believes her, but soon enough, the young men of her band, including Taabe, are fighting for their lives against the Predator. Oh, and Naru has a dog, and AMAZING dog called Sarii (played by Carolina dog Coco, giving an Oscar-worthy canine performance). Nothing bad happens to the dog.
Prey is perfect on every level. Cinematographer Jeff Cutter, who previously collaborated with Trachtenberg on 10 Cloverfield Lane and the pilot of The Boys, didn’t shoot in 100% natural light, but he so effectively blends natural and fabricated light you can’t tell the difference. Prey is GORGEOUS, visual storytelling at its best, both abstractly beautiful and loaded with narrative details. Another standout is Sarah Schachner’s score, which nods to Trevor Jones’ seminal Last of the Mohicans score while also incorporating electronic elements for the Predator’s theme. It’s an immediate addition to the “music to write to” playlist. But the unassailable star of Prey is Amber Midthunder, who gives a performance balanced on the edge of vulnerability and ferocity.
Naru is smart and capable, constantly observing and learning from the mistakes and failures of others, paying attention to details and using that information later to her advantage. Sometimes she only survives a skirmish because of dumb luck, and other times, she bails herself out of a jam by thinking her way through it, one problem at a time. Prey makes use of limited dialogue—the film is shot in a mix of English, Comanche, and French, with a full Comanche dub available—but Midthunder gives an incredible physical performance, clearly communicating Naru’s inner thoughts without histrionics or exaggerated movement. It’s a brilliantly calibrated performance of a character who can’t make sudden moves or more noise than strictly necessary, and Midthunder captures Naru’s fear and determination perfectly.
Prey is an absolute must-watch. Forget all the dumb, loud action movies that have come out recently and just watch Prey, which strips down its action to the basics, and does the absolute most with the least. I also recommend the Comanche dub, which adds a layer of depth to the story, truly grounding the film in this specific time and place (and then donate to support the preservation of the Comanche language). It’s just a stupendously well-done film, one in which craft is married to narrative in effective, compelling ways. The music doesn’t overpower Naru’s journey but underscores it, the cinematography is marvelous, and Dan Trachtenberg’s direction brings it all together in a beautiful historical action epic that pits two great hunters against one another in a bloody field of battle. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film as purely thrilling and completely satisfying as Prey. It’s just perfect.
Prey is now streaming on Hulu.