Cinema’s ugliest motherf**ker is back in Prey, a spine-clinching, whoops-and-cheers Predator prequel that could be the spark to relight an iconic, underserved franchise.
“A long time ago, it is said, a monster came here.” In 1987, it was the sun-scorched woods of Val Verde. In 1990, it came into Los Angeles with a few days to kill. In 2010, it was an anonymous jungle doubling as a playground. In 2018, it was Middle America suburbia.
Prey – the latest installment in the Predator series – goes back to basics in the 18th century; more specifically, the Northern Great Plains in 1719, following the quietly brutal lives of the Comanche Nation as they’re upended by an extraterrestrial threat. “I saw lightning in the trees,” one character warns.
In setting the hunt against such a primitive backdrop, governed by survival over politics, it recaptures the lost essence of Predator without buttered biceps glistening under gunmetal; mankind remains the most dangerous game, even without wrist-blades.
This Prey review is spoiler-free.
Prey review: Prequel sends Predator back to the 1700s
Prey opens on Naru (Legion’s Amber Midthunder) awakening under a brisk blue sky. We then move on to her practicing tomahawk throws, the first of several sound design highlights; the whoosh of every strike, the crunching crackle of the trees as the blade impales the wood, the curious sniffing of Sarii, played by the goodest girl of 2022: Coco the Dog. Don’t worry, she doesn’t die.
Aurally, the movie soars on Sarah Schachner’s altogether epic composition. The competition is stiff when it comes to Alan Silvestri’s foot-tapping theme, but this is the superior score; it has all the folksy warmth of something like Red Dead Redemption, or even last year’s Pig, while unafraid of reaching for big, euphoric tracks.
While her brother (Dakota Beavers) vouches for her tracking wisdom against men who believe she’s nothing more than a “cook”, Naru is forced to go beyond the ridge on her own to track a mysterious beast that’s skinned snakes and buffalo, and left tracks unlike anything she’s ever seen. She doesn’t realize she’s tracking a Predator (brought to life by Dane DiLiegro).
Prey review: Expect gruesome, nonstop Predator action
Director Dan Trachtenberg – of 10 Cloverfield Lane and Portal: Still Alive fame – has cited Mad Max: Fury Road as a primary inspiration for Prey, wishing to tell a story through nonstop action.
At a nippy 90 minutes, it lives up to that pledge; for the most part, the film never gives you a moment to breathe, moving from one mud-stomping chase to another with blood spills and skulls secured. It also captures the pelt-pulling atmosphere of The Revenant, right down to Naru making a getaway by being washed away in the currents of the river.
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Jeff Cutter’s cinematography is an essential component to the film’s awe-striking vibe. Just watching Naru and Sarii stroll across gorgeous, mountainous vistas would be a perfectly pleasant way to spend an hour-and-a-half – but throw in a Predator, and you have a cocktail of d’aws and yelps that’s consistently entertaining, even in its briefest moments of tranquillity. Though, the film is instilled with something key to the first film’s success: an unshakeable suspense in the unseen presence of a higher, nastier power.
Prey review: Naff CGI is the movie’s biggest flaw
If only the CGI wasn’t so ropey. Prey, for all its rousing action sequences, is clearly made on the cheap. The shoddiness is initially hard to look past, whether it’s the Predator’s sweaty-gelatin camouflage or lion design that’s far behind the likes of 10,000 B.C. – and that was nearly 15 years ago.
Once you make peace with it – which I strenuously advise, as nitpicking effects is ultimately a tedious pastime – the gory thrills transcend the naff VFX. Still, the jury’s still out on whether fake blood has ever been convincing – it just doesn’t gloop right, you know?
Trachtenberg is a filmmaker who clearly gets Predator: we see it take on a grizzly bear in a battle of luminous blood; it slices and dices a wolf before ripping out its spine; and that’s before the dizzying array of ways in which it kills the humans. Don’t expect the shoulder canon, but there’s the combistick, a razor-sharp shield, laser arrows, and best of all, the netgun. The latter kill made my organs curl.
None of this works without a compelling lead, however. Predator remains the only film to make moviegoers believe Arnold Schwarzenegger could be afraid of anything, but Midthunder is an exceptional foil for the hunter’s feral ways.
While others scream and shoot, inflicting damage but opening themselves up (literally), she’s a believable, formidable; hiding, but never cowering. The majority of the film rests on her shoulders – along with Coco’s – and they never once buckle. It’d be wonderful to see them back – then again, I wouldn’t say no to Danny Glover caught up in another drug war fueled by a heatwave.
Gnarly, exhilarating, and primal, Prey is the best movie in the franchise since the original. Put it this way: Predator is back.
Soon, the hunt will begin again: Prey arrives on Disney+ and Hulu on August 5.