Review: 'Prey' Smartens Up the Most Dangerous Game

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 5, 2022


The "Predator" series, which began with the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film from 1987, has presented us with man versus game-hunting extraterrestrial in a variety of locales: A Central American jungle; a couple of urbans settings; a hunting preserve on an alien planet; and — in a pair of spinoff movies — Predators versus the acid-blooded aliens from a totally different franchise, thus wedding the two movie series into one unwieldy sci-fi universe.

Now director Dan Trachtenberg makes good on his promise to bring the "Predator" franchise to an all-new frontier setting his new film "Prey" in 1719 Comanche territory, and centering around a young woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder) who defies the typical gender roles of her time and culture, determined to become one of her tribe's respected hunters. To do so, she has to complete a ritual "big hunt," but even her older brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers) — the tribe's War Chief, who knows what Naru is capable of — has his doubts: "You really think you're ready?" he asks her. "You want to hunt something that's hunting you?"

Indeed, Naru does, and the moment seems at hand when the tribe comes under attack by a mountain lion. But there's something even more dangerous in the woods following the ominous appearance of a "thunderbird," which viewers know is an alien spaceship: An armored, heavily-armed, and invisible Predator is stalking the land, and neither bear, snake, Comanche, nor French fur trapper is safe from its aggressive trophy taking.

Not understanding what she's up against until she's seen it in deadly action against other hunters in her tribe, Naru is unbowed: Accompanied by her dog, Sarii, whom she's trained to coordinate with her in flushing out and bringing down game, Naru sets out to do deadly combat. Her greatest weapon isn't her bow, nor her tomahawk (which we see her modify, in an inspired moment of innovation, by attaching a rope to it so that she can simply whip it right back into her hand after having thrown it at a target), but the alien Predator's arrogant assumption, so like that of the men in her tribe, that she's neither competent as a warrior, nor a threat.

At the film's heart is the same bag of tricks we've seen in previous installments of the franchise (an invisibility cloak, a mix of high-tech and more basic, but lethal, weapons), which makes for some cutting-edge visual effects and adrenalized action sequences. But the movie also confounds typical tropes, and (mostly) insists on earning its departures. Naru isn't just supremely gifted at tracking, fighting, and strategy; she's also always thinking and practicing, perpetually honing her edge. What's more, the movie complicates things, turning a standard adventure tale into a thriller by introducing complications (those French fur trappers mentioned earlier) that the script, with well-judged discipline, refuses to allow to spin out of control. The movie gets bigger as it progresses, but it doesn't mindlessly sprawl; instead, everything about it — scope, stakes, intensity — gets bigger but without becoming shapeless.

If anything detracts from the film's atmospherics (it's got a little of the look and temperature of films like "The Revenant"), it's that the film's dialogue is in contemporary English. "I gotta go take a squat," a hunter from Naru's tribe announces at one point; at another, Taabe exclaims, "I need to get me a horse." In both cases (and throughout the film) the dialogue and manner of speaking is very much Gen Z. This being an action movie, and an installment in a pop-culture film franchise, you don't necessarily expect linguistic veracity (as in the subtitle-heavy prehistoric survival saga "Alpha," which this film also feels like it cribs from), but the dialogue doesn't have to be laughable, either.

Wisely, Trachtenberg minimizes such instances of tin-eared, contemporary-sounding dialogue in favor of visual storytelling. The film's camera work and cinematography tell us more about those woods, and the dangers in it (both mundane and extraterrestrial) than whole pages of dialogue could hope to get across, while the action sequences and fight choreography are (with a few exceptions) crisp and clear, meticulously planned and judiciously edited. What we come away with is impressive, and not just for its genre. This is solid filmmaking, brought with sober intention to a popcorn project. If the Schwarzenegger original — unmatched until now — was solidly '80s'style fun, "Prey" is, in its turn, a work of the moment: Smarter, tougher, and more complex, but still a zippy adventure.

"Prey" streams on Hulu August 5.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.