Prey adds a female perspective to a traditionally macho franchise. It’s stylistically, tonally, and philosophically different from Shane Black’s last Predator feature. The Predator flopped at the box office and was criticized for its portrayal of autism. Prey is a reaction against that film and Hollywood remake culture in general.
The film does for the Predator franchise what Todd Phillips’ Joker accomplished for the Batman films. Prey flips the story, as the title suggests. It’s a tight, character-driven drama, not the usual CGI-fueled sequel slugfest. It’s action-packed but unafraid of silences; woke without pandering to minorities. Prey cast a young woman in a role traditionally played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Set in the Comanche Nation in the early 1700s, Prey follows the story of Naru, a warrior who realizes that her tribe may be under attack from a strange hunter. Amber Midthunder plays Naru, who struggles to fit in with her brother and his brash pals. When her bullies don’t believe her when she says she saw a predator on a rampage, she sets out to prove to them (and herself) that she’s not worthless. Believe her.
Midthunder is enlightening. She carries the picture almost fully on her shoulders and is superb in both action moments and dramatic detours. Her (over)protective brother and her dog are noteworthy. Naru is strong-willed but fragile; formidable but fallible. I assume many people, not just young ladies, may identify with her lack of self-confidence.
After 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dan Trachtenberg was associated to project after project that failed for various reasons. He reemerged on TV with The Boys’ pilot and Black Mirror’s Playtest. Prey’s director was announced after months of rumors. They said it was a prequel, and if you pressed further, you’d learn the film was in a foreign tongue.
Trachtenberg filmed Prey like a bilingual movie, like certain American filmmakers. There will also be a Comanche version, which is a first and should be honored. Despite being loyal to the Comanche Nation, I’m not convinced by the film’s subtext. Is it exploitative to set a movie about aliens killing humans in a real-life village that endured comparable persecution?
After an hour or so of primarily fanciful world-building, Naru encounters malevolent white settlers in the film’s third act. Trachtenberg handles both elements skillfully. Prey is a genre thriller with inventive death sequences and an introspective drama about a young woman finding her place in the world.
Trachtenberg keeps the camera on his heroine as she goes around her village and the surrounding surroundings; he recognizes the importance of tone and atmosphere. Marvel has made Hollywood filmmakers fear silences; their movies always include a quip to offset onscreen pain. This is a fine tactic sometimes, but it’s worrisome when it becomes the default and informs moviemaking as a whole. Shane Black’s Predator movie seemed to be a teen-boy-targeted Marvel comedy.
The Revenant meets Apocalypto in Prey. That’s great, right? We’re starved for big-screen entertainment like this, so it’s a shame the film is only available online.