Film Review: Prey (2022)

Spoilers ahead!

Fun poster.

The best thing for me going into 2022’s Hulu-released Predator prequel, Prey, is that I have no formed opinions about the Predator franchise, its mythos, its characterization over the years, and its prior films. I’m fairly certain the only other film in the franchise I’ve seen is the 2010 sequel (I assumed it was a remake, but Wikipedia assures me its a sequel) with Adrien Brody, Predators. That’s right, I’ve never seen the original 1987, Predator, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I might have seen 2004’s Alien vs. Predator, but since I’m not entirely sure, I might as well not have.

So, this 2022 film is freaking awesome. The premise is so damn simple and is a winning strategy: What if we plopped this Predator, an intelligent extraterrestrial, who seeks trophies of the strongest predators, is DNA-engineered to be the top of the food chain, and oh, if its high-tech gadgets, including infrared thermal vision through its bio-mask, superior strength, speed, and leaping ability weren’t enough, it also can render itself invisible, down in the Great Plains of 1719 to go up against Native Americans, particularly the Comanches?

Thing is, this film totally would have worked for me if it was about the set-up of Naru (played pitch perfect by Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman who wants to be a great hunter like her brother, Taabe (played by Dakota Beavers), and instead of trying to prove her hunting skills by “bringing home” to the tribe the Predator, she brought home a lion or some other big predator in the wilderness. Because the scenes early-on of her trying to do just that are fantastic, and would have made for a worthy film in its own right. There is one great shot in particular from Dan Trachtenberg, director (who also directed the great 2016 film (his only other film!), 10 Cloverfield Lane), when Naru and a cougar are facing off on opposite ends of a tree.

That shot also highlights two other strengths of the film: a.) the landscape shots (apparently, the film was shot in Calgary, Alberta, Canada) are gorgeous by cinematographer Jeff Cutter, and give a sense of how much Naru is also battling the wilderness itself to survive, including one terrifying sweaty palm scene where she is almost submerged to death in a mud pit; and b.) how much Trachtenberg lets the tension and drama speak for itself within the silence of zero dialogue, or minimal dialogue, or in the haunting, pulse-pounding score by Sarah Schachner.

But alas, if Naru was only fighting lions, cougars and bears, which the Comanche men aren’t even remotely fearful of, that would have been a tense film for me, but along comes the Predator, an absolutely, “Eff this,” sort of foe. I mean, the Predator squares up with a ferocious bear and wins handily. He then has the strength to lift the bear up over his head in triumph. He also takes down a whole group of fur traders who, unlike the Native Americans, have guns! I’m like, how the heck is Naru going to fight this thing? When I’m wondering that, that is what makes for the best kind of movie!

Another great shot that shows us the introduction of the Predator is when some sort of small animal eats an insect, which is then eaten by a snake, which is then skinned alive and killed by the Predator showing the layers to the predator-prey dynamic in the animal kingdom. Of course, the human is the ultimate predator on that throne, at least until the Predator comes along.

Naturally, I knew I was going to like this movie right away because Naru has a good dog, Sarii (played by Coco), with her helping her learn to hunt and fight, and who later helps her to take down the Predator. I was rooting for them both to survive. You can’t kill the dog off, movie. The brother? Sure, but not the dog!

Along the way, Naru takes notice of the skinned snake, the way-too-large-for-anything-she’s-ever-seen tracks, and something she saw in the sky, but her fellow Comanche warriors doubt her. They also doubt her ability to hunt. Even her brother comes to doubt her after she fails to snag the cougar. But she’s persistent. She is going to find what made those tracks.

As if lions, cougars and bears, and the looming threat of the Predator aren’t enough, Naru and Taabe come across French fur trappers, who previously skinned dozens of bison, who trap them and use them as bait to lure the Predator in. Unfortunately for the fur trappers, as I mentioned, the Predator fairly easily wiped the floor with them in one of the coolest scenes of technologically-enhanced bloodletting through a foggy wood that I’ve seen.

Naru and Taabe are able to escape, and later, Taabe is the first to give the Predator a real run for his money in battle, but ultimately, is killed. However, not before telling Naru to “bring it home.” That about pulled on my heartstrings and tear ducts!

The secret to Naru trapping in the mud pit and defeating the Predator is its own code of honor, i.e., it doesn’t kill something it doesn’t see as a threat. There is no honor in that. So, for example, early on, when Naru gets snagged in a bear trap, the invisible Predator approaches by pulling up the manacles of the trap, studying her, and then leaves her. There is no honor in killing her in that moment. In that same way, she was able to steal its bio-weapon, stab it in the back of the head, and escape to set up her swamp trap. Because he had her as a blindspot!

She tells the lead fur trapper, who was one of the few to escape the Predator’s earlier onslaught, (to paraphrase), “You think I’m not a threat; that’s what makes me so dangerous: You can’t see that I’m killing you.” It was one of my favorite monologue moments in film this year.

Of course, once Naru has taken the Predator’s bio-mask, he recognizes her for the threat she is, and we get the showdown between them in what looks to be a little bit of snowfall in the wood. That makes for yet another gorgeous setting fitting for the climax. Besting her brother, Naru not only takes the Predator to the limit in face-to-alien face combat, but is able to use its own advanced technology against it to decapitate him. Which was an awesome moment because the Predator was trapped in the mud pit, rose out of it like a freaking unstoppable monster, and then was decapitated.

Like I said at the top, I thought this was a freaking awesome film. I’m not beholden to Arnold’s movie, or other movies in the franchise, so I don’t know if it was a good Predator film, or a good movie featuring the Predator by the standards of fans of the franchise, but my own tastes in film? That was freaking awesome. I highly recommend it for people who enjoy a little something different. This was one of those cases where bringing two worlds together (the Comanche and the Predator) worked beautifully and horrifically in the best way.

I see no shame in living out the rest of my days in a bear trap rather than taking that thing on.

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