Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DeLiegro, Harlan Blayne Kytwayhat
Written by: Patrick Aison
Produced by: John Davis, Marty P. Ewing, John Fox, Jhane Myers
Cinematography by: Jeff Cutter
Original Score by: Sarah Schachner
Naru, a skilled female warrior, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth.
A bloody and intense battle between two very different types of hunters. 'Prey' is everything I wanted it to be and absolutely earns its stripes as one of the best films in the entire franchise.
The Northern Great Plains, 1719. Naru (Amber Midthunder) and her Comanche family live in peace and serenity at one with nature but when a mountain lion encroaches into their territory they must hunt the beast and kill it before it kills them. Mountain lions will be the least of their worries soon. As the men lead the hunt, Naru pitches a plan that is almost laughed away and it's clear how the hierarchy works in this tribe. Naru may not quite be a fully fledged hunter just yet but she's eager to prove to the patriarchal leadership that she deserves to be considered one of them and stand alongside her leader brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers)
Naru is a strong willed, tenacious young woman with an an aptitude well beyond her years. She seems to have an affinity with her surroundings and a powerful bond with her canine sidekick. Top of Naru's long list of talents is her natural intelligence, her healing prowess, her knowledge of nature and her ability to act with resolve through arduous situations. We get all this in the first twenty minutes. It's fantastic storytelling and it will more or less all come into play later on.
Even before any alien lifeform sets its Sasquatch size feet onto the indigenous land, we're treated to some awesome hunting scenes where Naru trains with a tomahawk and learns new ways to kill her prey. We also get some incredibly beautiful landscape shots of wild North America, all set to a swirling epic and adventurous score by Sarah Schachner. It genuinely feels like something special is about to happen. There's a notable change when the Predator is onscreen to a more futuristic, metal synth sound that really adds to the feeling that danger is coming. And I thought I might've caught a little homage to Alan Silvestri's glorious score from the original film too.
While the tribe celebrate after the mountain lion is finally killed, Naru believes something else is out there. Something bigger. The men live and hunt using braun but Naru is smarter and her intuition and some clever deduction leads her into the woods alone to hunt for the creature she believes still poses a threat to her people. She's determined to complete a ritualistic rite of passage to prove her worth; she must hunt and kill what hunts her. She just has no idea what she's getting herself in for.
Patrick Aison's script isn't flawless by any means but its got all the peaks and troughs that every good action screenplay should have. It's deliberately not too wordy and Naru in particular really lets her actions do the talking for her. But this is way more than just an action film. It's a slasher that harkens back to John McTiernan's 1987 original, which I consider a masterpiece. It keeps the premise as basic as it can with a believable and touching human story snaking its way throughout it. And it's brutal. If you thought that somehow the blood and guts mights be toned down then you were very mistaken. There's some cool scares and gory kills that will surely put huge grins on fans faces. It feels like its made for fans of the original but never feels like its milking the nostalgia. Although like all good prequel/sequels, it's gotta have at least one repeated line of dialogue in there somewhere. I'll let you all guess what that line is.
I was a big fan of Trachtenberg's '10 Cloverfield Lane', a film that is set in a nuclear bunker that explores the human psyche and notions of hyper-paranoia. Trachtenberg is allowed to roam free a lot more in this film and he and DoP Jeff Cutter are somehow able to capture the loneliness and intimacy that is still present even in a wide open clearing. The film feels very much contained even more so than Schwarzenegger's original. Though the land is vast there is still a sense of claustrophobia at times particularly towards the end when another group of "hunters" are introduced and it feels like there's nowhere to hide from the inevitable. And then that's when the real fun begins.
The Predator in 'Prey' is bigger and badder than the one in the original. It's feral with a large skull bone face shield covering its longer, more pronounced facial features but in terms of its weapons and movement its basically the same. We get lots of teases early on to its existence and we see it a few times in stealth mode. I applaud Dan Trachtenberg's propensity for patience in showing the Predator in full. The first time we really see any proper definition is an amazing scene where the creature hoists a bear corpse above its head and unintentionally covers itself in bear blood. And with every little tease my intrigue inevitably grew stronger wanting to see more but also happy just enjoying all the mild chaos that was slowly ensuing infront of my eyes.
Amber Midthunder plays Naru with poise, boldness and a youthful conviction that shines through in every scene. It's difficult not to fall in love with her character especially when she is clearly in the throes of finding herself and overcoming her own self doubt. And as the film progresses there's a real push to cheer her on as she prepares herself for the final showdown with the ultimate apex predator. It's super refreshing that the cast is made up of indigenous men and women and that much care was put into creating an authentic look and feel aligned with the Comanche Nation with the help of Jhane Myers.
'Prey' is a shining example of what happens when a writer and director just know what works with a particular franchise and they don't attempt to sink the simplicity with unnecessary nonsense. Doesn't knock the original off it's perch but it does its best to come close.
- Gavin Logan
'Prey' is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK and Hulu in the US from August 5th