Over the course of two movies and a handful of TV episodes, Dan Trachtenberg has demonstrated he’s a sure hand at delivering lean, genre-heavy franchise entries. Trachtenberg’s first feature, 10 Cloverfield Lane, was a tight thriller nominally connected to Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield. Trachtenberg’s latest, Prey, is a similarly impressive entry for the Predator franchise. Prey delivers everything a Predator movie should (read: impressive action, brutal violence, uncomplicated plot), while adding a creative perspective.
Prey serves as a Predator origin story, pitting the ruthless alien killer against a Comanche tribe in the 1700s. The hero of this tale is Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman eager to prove herself as a hunter to her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). While hunting a mountain lion, Naru finds evidence of a more dangerous creature stalking the woods around her tribe’s lands. She heads out to investigate, accompanied by her trusty dog. Naru finds herself hindered by her tribesmen, who doubt her instincts, and a group of cigar-chomping French hunters, whose metal traps litter the forest.
There have been a number of Predator movies over the years, each one with diminishing returns. Fortunately, Prey only owes fealty to the 1987 original, a straightforward tale that was light on lore. That same ethos pervades Trachtenberg’s movie. This is a survival story, pure and simple, and Trachtenberg and cinematographer Jeff Cutter make the most of that, highlighting both the beauty and danger of the natural landscape. At a fast-paced 99 minutes, nothing is wasted. Every element of the land, every interaction and every weapon Naru picks up or makes leads to a payoff in the final act.
The Predator itself is as forbidding as ever, with a few added accouterments this time around. The original creature had an impassive metal mask. This one features a more primordial helm fashioned from a wolf skull. It sometimes feels silly to see the Predator’s advanced alien tech go up against people for whom an inefficient single-shot pistol is the height of advanced weaponry—it’s a laughably unfair fight. However, that incongruity is part of the fun, and raw ability eventually wins out over extraterrestrial toys.
To that end, Midthunder’s scrappy Naru is more than a match for the villain. The character comes close to falling into trope territory (she’s far from the first tough female character who wants to prove herself to the boys). Fortunately, the script gives her natural intelligence and actual bona fides that outclass everyone around her. Like the Predator, Naru learns and adapts, using the resources around her to her advantage.
It’s a shame Prey will head straight to streaming; this is a great-looking, well-made movie that cleverly comments on its source material, and deserves to be seen on a huge screen. Still, the movie will likely benefit from a release on Hulu, where it can be easily accessed for superior Friday night viewing. If nothing else, this is another entry in Trachtenberg’s growing track record as a capable director who delivers the goods with very little glut.
“Prey” debuts Friday on Hulu.