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Director Dan Trachtenberg‘s feature debut, 10 Cloverfield Lane, transformed a spinoff entry in a sci-fi horror franchise into a white-knuckle claustrophobic thriller nestled loosely within the same universe. His follow-up, Preycontinues his streak of injecting fresh ideas into beloved sci-fi horror franchises. Prey takes its cues from 1987’s Predator in terms of simplicity and bloody action-horror. Its cultural specificity and period setting lend a sweeping period epic feel and introduce emotional stakes through its memorable characters.
Set in the Great Plains in 1719, Prey introduces Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman uninterested in fulfilling the domestic role her tribe expects of her. Naru wants to hunt, like her brother and respected hunter Taabe (Dakota Beavers). She misses her initial chance to prove her skills in a rite of passage when she notices something missing across the ridge. Naru realizes it brings a significant and unknown threat and sets out to test her mettle and protect her tribe.
Trachtenberg, working from a script by Patrick Aison (“Jack Ryan,” “Treadstone”), takes the time to establish the main characters before the Predator action kicks into high gear. The sibling bond and rivalry between Naru and Taabe engender rooting interest in both characters immediately; Midthunder and Beavers make it so easy to care about Naru and Taabe. That’s all the more impressive, considering just how little dialogue exists within this action-forward feature.
Seeing the inner workings of their tribe and the characters’ roles within them highlights the honor in their hunt. The Comanche tribe’s fierce warriors adhere to a code regarding combat and prey. Above all, the lengthy character building of act one underscores Naru’s observant and adaptable nature; she’s constantly watching and learning. Even scenes that seem, at first, nothing more than establishing a way of life contribute to Naru’s overarching arc, all of it relevant to the full throttle back half.
Prey may also be the most stunning Predator film yet. Trachtenberg captures the natural beauty of the setting with wide sweeping shots and panoramic views of the mountains. Entirely set outdoors, Trachtenberg introduces multiple breathtaking set pieces, from sinking mud pits to rivers to foggy fields, providing greater visual interest and a propulsive feel to the narrative. This rich world setting becomes more epic in scope with an atypical, sweeping score that feels more in line with epic adventures than horror. All of it gives a larger-than-life quality to an intimate story.
Working against this is the overreliance on VFX. The heavy CG utilized in multiple animal encounters struggles to blend with its practical surroundings and may show its age over time. The great practical work of the Predator (Dane DiLiegro) can also get buried beneath overlaid VFX. Luckily, it doesn’t become too huge of a detriment to what works about Preywhich is almost everything.
Prey may take place three centuries before Predator, but it’s not really a prequel so much as it is a film in conversation with the original. Trachtenberg includes subtle callbacks, including iconic dialogue lines, in organic ways that don’t come across as nostalgia bait. More importantly, it’s in the way that Prey opts for simplicity in the narrative; it’s hunter versus hunter set loose in the wild. Naru’s story grounds a brisk, lean, and bloody action horror movie right through to its thrilling conclusion. Amber Midthunder commands the film with ease with a resilient and compelling protagonist prone to making mistakes but quick to learn from them.
The Predator finds an unexpected, worthy adversary in Preya perfect mirror for the viewer’s experience. Prey surprises in how different yet similar it feels to the franchise’s origins. It feels right at home with the mythology of the Predator universe yet stretches the boundaries in tone and scale. Soaring spectacle meets intimate storytelling, delivering one of the most solid entries in the franchise yet. It’s a shame that Prey isn’t getting a theatrical release as well; it’s a genuine crowd-pleaser.
Prey debuts exclusively on Hulu on August 5, 2022.
“American Horror Stories” Review – Episode 3 Subverts a Classic Urban Legend with Mixed Results
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