Prey Review: The Predator Franchise Revived in an Efficient, Violent Thriller


 Legacy reboots, revivals, prequels, and sequels have become the norm and it's increasingly rare to see the franchise take on a whole new take on its mythology. 2022 alone has seen some successful debuts (Scream and Top Gun: Maverick come to mind) and others that have been pretty floppy (best to forget Netflix's errant sequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The Predator franchise has seen its fair share of sequels, crossovers, and IP forks. Prey is the newest and arguably the best Predator entry since the 1987 original. A stylish action thriller, Prey takes Predator back to its ultra-violent roots and establishes itself as a worthy entry in the franchise's mythology.

Prey follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a member of the Comanche Nation in 1719 North America who wants to demonstrate her hunting skills among her male companions. This includes her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), who is close to him and who is at the heart of the film. Naru's small act of rebellion made her aware of the presence of a strange predator, whom she didn't recognize. While everyone else ignores him, Naru sets out to stalk the Predator and finds himself on a violent journey that pits him against the region's harsh wildlife, ruthless invaders, and a brutal alien presence.

One of Prey's greatest strengths is its basic approach to franchising. While other reboots and sequels seek to build on the franchise's roots with varying degrees of success, Prey keeps it pretty simple and clear that this is exactly what the movie needs. Recalling the natural setting of the first Predator and 2010's underrated Adrien Brody starring Predator, the film makes use of the jungle and mountainous environments of 18th-century North America. Most of the first half of the film follows Naru as she tracks the Predator through the vast lands of the Comanche Nation and this sequence is just as tense as it is when she fights the Predator. The escalation of Naru's first encounter brings the tension to a breaking point before exploding into a bloody mess that leaves Naru on the run. Director Dan Trachtenberg's appreciation of the environment in the midst of all this gives the film the naturalistic style that best suits Predator. Pitting humans against the titular aliens doesn't need to dress up to be good.

None of this would have worked without Midthunder's charming performance as Naru. His curiosity outweighs his hesitation in hunting predators and this, combined with his fierce protection that goes unnoticed by those he loves most, makes his increasingly dangerous situation even more stressful. Naru and Taabe's relationship was born out of need and love, and Midthunder and Beavers have a natural bond that gives Prey just the right amount of emotional charge.

All of this is underscored by Prey's clear connection to the themes of colonization and violence perpetrated against Native Americans by imperialist powers. Jhane Myers (of Comanche and Blackfoot descent) was brought in to consult on Prey's portrayal of indigenous people, and the film ensures that his portrayal goes beyond the stereotypical ways they have been portrayed in the past. Plus, seeing an indigenous woman lead a film with a determined heart and fierce elegance is a refreshing twist for a genre still struggling to see beyond the reach of a white male lead.

Ultimately, Prey certainly has the potential to relaunch a franchise that has struggled for the last decade and a half. Movies like Prey don't require excessive worldbuilding or mythology: skillful character work and a well-established visual language go a long way toward creating a movie that barely stops to catch its breath. It's still unclear where Predator goes from here, but Prey is definitely showing that there's a lot more life left in the franchise.

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